IBM invites you to outwit supercomputer

In a bid to show off its latest AI technology, IBM has challenged the public to a battle of wits against its Watson supercomputer.

Watson will be taking part in the US gameshow Jeopardy later this year, but in the meantime IBM is demonstrating a taster of its capabilities.

Take your browser over to the New York Times website and you'll find an interactive quiz board based on the Jeopardy! gameshow. You can then see how your answers compare with those from the supercomputer.

For anyone who lives outside the US should bear in mind that Jeopardy takes a bit of getting used to. The cryptic questions aren't straightforward, and the answers will require a bit of lateral thinking. As such, it's an amazing achievement that Watson can understand and attempt to answer the questions at all, let alone get them right.

Watson can not only understand the idioms of human speech, but it can also speak its answer back to you, breaking up the sounds of the words into individual phonemes. Over the past few years, IBM has been packing Watson with as much knowledge for it to analyse as possible, including dictionaries, encyclopaedias and reference books.

That's a lot of information for it to process on the spot, but it has plenty of processing power available. According to IBM's head of the Watson team, David Ferrucci, Watson features over 1,000 compute nodes based on its BlueGene architecture, and each of these contains several processing cores.

When it's asked a question, Watson tries to work out several possible answers based on its available information. It then lines up the most likely possibilities, and then works out which one is the most likely to be the correct answer, as well as how to phrase it. In the online quiz, you can see the other guesses that Watson weighed up before making its final answer.

Watson is lined up to take part in the gameshow in the US in autumn this year. Given how much computing power is needed for a computer to take part in a gameshow, it's probably a safe bet that computers aren't going to be passing the Turing test at any time in the near future.