The Next Ken Jennings, continued

May 27, 2009

Back on May 3, I wrote about an IBM project to build a system that can play Jeopardy!.  The Technology Review, published by MIT, now has an article that describes the system, called Watson, in a little more depth:

The company has not yet published any research papers describing how its system will tackle Jeopardy!-style questions. But David Ferrucci, the IBM computer scientist leading the effort, explains that the system breaks a question into pieces, searches its own databases for “related knowledge,” and then finally makes connections to assemble a result.

The key problem here is to make the system able to “understand” a Jeopardy! clue  expressed in natural language.

Ferrucci describes how the technology would handle the following Jeopardy!-style question: “It’s the opera mentioned in the lyrics of a 1970 number-one hit by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.”

The Watson engine uses natural-language processing techniques to break the question into structural components. In this case, the pieces include 1) an opera; 2) the opera is mentioned in a song; 3) the song was a hit in 1970; and 4) the hit was by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

The plan is to stage a match between the Watson system and human contestants, with the clues being given to the system in text format (so it doesn’t also have to deal with the problem of interpreting speech):

Demonstrations of the system are expected this year, with a final televised matchup–complete with hosting by the show’s Alex Trebek–sometime next year.

Regardless of who wins the match, this should be a fascinating exercise.

Microsoft releases Vista SP2

May 27, 2009

Microsoft has released the production version of Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.  Those of you who are lucky (cough) enough to be using Vista can download it now from the Microsoft Download Center.  If you use Windows Update, either automatically or manually, the SP2 update should be offered within a few days (according to Microsoft), assuming your machine is configured adequately (see below).  The MS Knowledge Base has an article describing alternate ways of getting the Service Pack.

To download the Service Pack itself (the same updater is used for Vista and Server 2008), use one of the following links:

There is one important prerequisite for installing SP2 on Vista, which is that Vista SP1 must already be installed. Apparently Microsoft packaged things this way so that the SP2 download would not be so big; as it is, the 32-bit version weighs in at about 348 MB.  Windows Server 2008 was released after SP1 was available, and it already includes the contents of SP1.  (If you need to get Vista SP1, there is a download link in the Knowledge Base article I mentioned earlier.)

Microsoft has a summary of changes included in SP2; the more technical release notes are available on MS’s TechNet site.

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