Rensselaer graduates were there from the beginning as IBM conceptualized and created a computer named Watson that challenged the most accomplished Jeopardy! contestants. David Ferrucci ’94, the IBM lead scientist on the project, earned his Ph.D. at Rensselaer. Chris Welty ’85 (who earned all three of his degrees at Rensselaer) was a member of the IBM Watson algorithms team and a former director of Rensselaer’s computer science laboratory. And Welty's fellow IBM algorithms team member Adam Lally ’98 worked on the Watson project.
On Feb. 14, 15, and 16, Rensselaer researchers joined an enthusiastic audience of students and visitors to watch as Watson (named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson) faced off against two all-time Jeopardy! champions. The Jeopardy! IBM Challenge was shown on the large high-definition screen in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) Concert Hall.
All three events included panel discussions featuring Rensselaer professors and administrators and IBM experts before the show aired, and each show was followed by a question-and-answer period with the panel.
The Challenges of Watson's Technology and the Potential Suggested by Its Capabilities
The game of Jeopardy! makes great demands on its players from the range of topical knowledge covered to the nuances in language employed in the clues. The creation of Watson has broad implications for real-world challenges. The panel at Rensselaer offered their ideas on the challenges involved in the technology and the possibilities and capabilities that such emerging systems suggest.
Moderators were Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., John E. Kolb ’79, Rensselaer vice president for information services and technology and CIO, and Francine Berman, Ph.D., vice president for research.
The panel included Chris Welty ’85, a member of the IBM Watson team that was involved in “teaching” Watson language, including how to process and respond to it. He utilized ontologies a common vocabulary of basic concepts and relationships among them, which is used by computer scientists to encode meanings in a language that computers can understand.
Adam Lally ’98, an IBM senior software engineer, worked on Watson’s algorithms team, which designed and implemented the DeepQA architecture that allows Watson to understand and answer questions at lightning speed. During the commentary, Welty and Lally shared some insight into how the machine learns from it mistakes.
Tetherless World Research Constellation Professor James Hendler is one of the inventors of the Semantic Web and his colleague Tetherless World Research Constellation Professor Deborah McGuinness, is among the world’s foremost experts on Web languages, ontologies, and ontology environments.
Selmer Bringsjord, head of Cognitive Science and director of the Rensselaer AI and Reasoning (RAIR) Laboratory, had Welty, Lally, and Ferrucci in his classes during their years at Rensselaer.
James Douglas Myers is the new director of the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), one of world's most powerful university based computing centers. The CCNI, based on the Rensselaer campus and at its Rensselaer Technology Park, is a partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and New York State.
Professor Christopher Carothers in the department of Computer Science researches methods of optimizing the potential and speed of computing systems, while Assistant Professor in Computer Science Barbara Cutler is involved in data visualization research. Sanmay Das, an assistant professor in the Computer Science department, studies collective intelligence the result of large groups of people acting together to reach a particular outcome.