The world of supercomputing and artificial intelligence has always been fascinated with games like chess
-- where evaluating strategies for winning could be approached using vast computational resources. Another historical challenge for AI projects is the classic Turing Test, which requires an understanding of human communication in order to pass the test. So it's interesting to see IBM starting a project called Watson (named after IBM's founder, not Sherlock's assistant) to create a computer to compete on Jeopardy!
against human contestants -- because doing so combines the goals of natural language processing and
strategic game planning.
Obviously, though, Watson is more of a product demonstration than a serious research project to advance the field of computer science, but it's still a brilliant move, nonetheless, since the effort can be understood by anyone who watches popular game shows, and at the same time, the project studies a practical problem for algorithms. However, the game of Jeopardy! is somewhat trivial (no pun intended, honest) since Jeopardy's given answers all have matching questions -- and it doesn't really require true comprehension to guess (apparently, human contestants respond correctly about 85% of the time). Granted, Jeopardy! is a bit harder to play than Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but Alex Trebek doesn't seem quite as computationally demanding as search engines can be (unless you count the audio/video Daily Doubles?). Still, IBM should be applauded for supporting its research as eye-catching PR campaigns -- while other companies like Microsoft
are getting more attention for downsizing their research divisions.