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UAlbany Computer Scientist one of the Brains Behind Computer Contestant on Jeopardy! Feb. 14

In this corner, IBM Watson, which will be aided by Tomek Strzalkowski's research in its battle with two human contestants on the game show "Jeopardy!"

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 11, 2011) -- The University at Albany today announced it is one of eight universities collaborating with IBM to advance the Question Answering (QA) technology behind the IBM "Watson" computing system. IBM’s Watson will compete on the quiz show "Jeopardy!" against the show's two most successful and celebrated contestants -- Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The first-ever human vs. machine "Jeopardy!" competition will air February 14 -16, 2011.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was built by a team of IBM scientists who set out to build a computing system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy, and confidence. The "Jeopardy!" format provides the ultimate challenge because the game’s clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles, and other complex-ities in which humans excel and computers traditionally do not.

"IBM Watson is the first step in how computers will be designed and built differently and will be able to learn, and with the help of the University at Albany, we will continue to advance the QA technologies that are the backbone of this system," said Dr. David Ferrucci, leader of the IBM Watson project team.

Watson answers complex questions

Watson's ability to understand the meaning and context of human language, and rapidly process in-formation to find precise answers to complex questions, holds enormous potential to transform how computers help people accomplish tasks in business and their personal lives. Watson will enable people to rapidly find specific answers to complex questions. The ongoing research collaborations will help advance Watson's ability to improve numerous industries, such as healthcare, banking, government, etc.

Associate Professor and Director of the UAlbany Institute for Informatics, Logics, and Security Studies (ILS) Tomek Strzalkowski and his research team developed an interactive QA capability for sustained investigation. When investigating a complex topic, you rarely receive the answer you need by asking just one question; rather you ask a series of questions to determine the solution. This technological advancement enables a computing system to remember the full interaction, rather than treat every question like the first one – simulating a real dialogue. While not applicable for the specific "Jeopardy!" challenge given the nature of the quiz format, IBM is working with UAlbany to integrate this capability into the Watson system for the future, as this capability has significant applicability to numerous industry scenarios such as healthcare, government, and financial services.

The University's Institute for Informatics, Logics, and Security Studies (ILS), is a multidisciplinary center conducting advanced research and Ph.D. level graduate education in computational informatics, information technology, and education. ILS research areas include information representation, retrieval, summarization, linking, and fusion; human-computer interaction, question-answering, and spoken dialogue; and computational logic, automated deduction, and logic programming.

Computer analyzes natural language

For the first time, there is a computing system that analyzes natural language and other language complexities in which humans excel at understanding and computers do not.  In this case, IBM has designed a learning system that can analyze information and respond to questions. It's the next stage in computing.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Texas, University of Southern California (USC), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), University of Trento, University of Massachusetts and Carnegie Mellon University also are working with IBM on the development of a first-of-its-kind open architecture that enables researchers to efficiently collaborate on underlying QA capabilities and then apply them to IBM's Watson system.

College of Computing and Information

Tomek Strzalkowski is an associate professor in Department of Computer Science, part of the University's College of Computing and Information. The College prepares UAlbany students to succeed in the information-rich world they will inhabit. The College was one of the first academic units in the country to combine strong technical education and research with an application-oriented perspective that ensures that information sys-tems effectively serve the needs of individuals and organizations, offering Computer Science, Informatics, and Information Studies.