Joint Colloquium Distinguished Lecture Series

Building Watson: A Brief Overview of DeepQA and the Jeopardy! Challenge

eric brown

Special EECS Colloquium
Thursday, November 17, 2011
108 Stanley Hall
12:30 - 1:30 pm

Eric Brown
IBM Research, RSM & Manager, Unstructured Information Management Systems

Downloadable pdf


Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was built by a team of IBM researchers who set out to accomplish a grand challenge––build a computing system that rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. The quiz show Jeopardy! provided the ultimate test of this technology because the game’s clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other complexities of natural language in which humans excel and computers traditionally fail. Watson passed its first test on Jeopardy!, beating the show's two greatest champions in a televised exhibition match, but the real test will be in applying the underlying natural language processing and analytics technology in business and across industries. In this talk I will introduce the Jeopardy! grand challenge, present an overview of Watson and the DeepQA technology upon which Watson is built, and explore future applications of this technology.


Eric Brown earned his B.S. degree at the University of Vermont (1989) and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Massachusetts (1992, 1996), all in Computer Science. At U Mass Eric was advised by Bruce Croft and was a member of the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval. Eric joined the IBM T.J. Watson Research lab in 1995 as a Research Staff Member, and has been a manager since 2004. While at IBM Eric has conducted research in information retrieval, document categorization, text analysis, question answering, bio-informatics, and applications of automatic speech recognition. Since 2007 Eric has been a technical lead on the DeepQA project at IBM and the application of automatic, open domain question answering to build the Watson Question Answering system. The goal of Watson is to achieve human-level question answering performance. This goal was realized in February of 2011 when Watson beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a televised Jeopardy! exhibition match. Eric's role on the project has spanned architecture development, special question processing, and hardware planning and acquisition, and he is currently focused on commercialization. Eric has published numerous conference and journal papers, and holds several patents in the areas of text analysis and question answering. Eric currently resides in New Fairfield, CT with his wife and three children.

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