The Paperless Office in the Cloud - What does the IBM "Watson" Jeopardy Challenge Portend for the Future of Business Documents?

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A friend sent me an email regarding the first of three Jeopardy episodes pitting IBM’s Watson super computer against Jeopardy’s two all-time top winners. (Click here to view Yahoo news item).  He asked the question, “Did you expect to see a real intellectual competition between man and machine in our lifetime?”  I had to admit that no, I really hadn’t imagined THIS kind of human-machine interaction.  I remembered IBM’s “Deep Blue” defeating world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 (Click here to see that match), but that didn’t seem nearly as remarkable a feat because it involved primarily a high-speed analysis of all of the possible moves in response to any move made by the opponent.  That’s a large number of moves, but it is a finite number. 

At Digital Designs we are working on voice command and response systems for our customers to use to easily access their business documents based upon content, but this was was different.  The Jeopardy Challenge involves analyzing and interpreting the nuances of natural language including puns, similes, slang, and regionalisms, not to mention the dualities and idiosyncrasies of the English language.  And, Watson had to compile three answers with associated levels of confidence and respond faster than the human contestants.  

A NOVA special about the upcoming event was broadcast on February 9th, 2011, which described the complex challenges that had to be overcome in order to be able to compete with the human brain.  IBM is using the event as an opportunity to demonstrate to a broad public audience how recent research can be applied to problems in business, healthcare, and government.

So what does this mean for the future of business documents?  We are facing an explosion of content in business today as a result of regulatory compliance, global commerce, and multimedia.  65% of business knowledge is contained in unstructured documents, not accessible to business intelligence analytics as structured data, and much of it is written in natural language.  

In the future we will have to be able to extract more of this kind of information, make it searchable, and analyze it quickly in order to make more informed decisions.  The Jeopardy challenge demonstrates that more powerful analytical capabilities than we might have imagined will be accessible in the near future.  These capabilities will be accessible through cloud computing services since it would be impractical and financially prohibitive to install the required supercomputers locally.  

The IBM Watson Jeopardy Challenge is another example some of the forces that are moving us increasingly into the cloud.  Now is the time to prepare for that future.

Until next time,

John Queen