‘Jeopardy’ Champion Supercomputer Watson Set To Tackle Medical Problems

After Jeopardy, IBM’s Watson is ready to face challenges from the real world. It is all set to fulfil its intended destiny.

Watson clobbering other participants on Jeopardy

No More Playing Games

Watson is best known for walloping human Jeopardy champions at their own game. However, this is just the tip of the Iceberg, as far as Watson is concerned. Originally conceived to serve as a fool-proof database for medicine and healthcare, Watson has been picked up by WellPoint Inc. to serve as an invaluable source for patient information, medical history, known treatments, operational procedures and much more. Watson will be able to delve into its deep memory bank, which will be fed with a huge library of medical books and journals, to come up with a solution in seconds.

The computing behemoth

Though it is obvious what great help this can be, Dr, Sam Nussbaum, Wellpoint’s chief medical officer puts it nicely:

Imagine having the ability within three seconds to look through all of that information, to have it be up to date, scientifically presented to you, and based on that patient’s medical needs at the moment you’re caring for that patient.

No, Watson is not here to replace human doctors, but it can support them really well. Watson’s great computing speed will also be of great help to cancer research and ontological operational procedures.

The amount for which Watson’s services are being availed for is unknown. Watson’s $1 million, won in Jeopardy, was given to charity.

This is the beginning of the road for Watson, says IBM. Watson will then be able to take up challenges from other human sectors, like finances, public works and security.

IBM Designs Chip That Replicates Human Brain

The human brain might soon be replicated in a chip. IBM hopes to replicate the product of at least 7 million years of evolution and create a chip that is based on the model of the brain and functions like one. This is a new direction in chip making, going for diverse functionalities and simulation of logic centers than mere parallel processing and speed.

A Big Announcement

IBM announced today that, along with four universities and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), it has created the experimental computer chip that mimics human brain processes. The main goal for the collaboration is to create a chip which will be able to perceive the environment, prioritize goals, interact with the surroundings and produce a proper response. It will also be able to increase the efficacy of the response process by basing later responses on the outcome of the previous responses and their consequence a sort of artificial intelligence, but at the level of a human brain. The DARPA project is called Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics or SyNAPSE.

The Chips

The speed of the chips is really slow too slow in comparison to the modern chips made by IBM itself. The processing speed is a paltry 10 Hertz, but this is one chip not looking for speed. The human brain is a wonderful device for parallel processing on an unthinkable scale. Moreover, it is able to create banks or sites, which can act as logic or memory locations. These junctions between neurons synapses have also been modeled on the chips.

The brain model

The current devices our known laptops or desktops are all von Neumann devices, which means that they can process information at a speed determined by how fast data can be carried by a bus. Higher capacity and speed of the bus means that the data is processed at higher rates. The speed of the computer is thus limited by the capacity of the bus, a phenomenon called von Neumann Bottleneck’.

According to Dharmendra Modha, the head of the DARPA project and associated with IBM, Almaden, the chips have deviated from von Neumann behaviour:

 We are now doing a new architecture. It departs from von Neumann in variety of ways.

These chips are built for parallel processing on an unprecedented scale. The memory center has been achieved by a small conventional memory chip, an incorrect description of how memory works in the human brain. This is mainly due to the fact that we know very little as to know synaptic nodes can act as centers of correlated memory.

Dharmendra Modha. He was the principal researcher behind the DARPA project. He's associated with IBM Almaden.


The crucial test for these chips will come when they will be called upon to do tasks that require genuine inspiration or any other quality that we associate uniquely with the human brain. Can these chips make mistakes? Or forget things? Or remember something related but not the exact fact? Can it discover? Can it feel inspired? These will be future questions as this is only the beginning. Jeopardy champion, Watson will have to pale in comparison!

Maybe, in some time, you’ll find the current author of this article replaced by a chip, a few cm across on either side, writing about its own history.

Google Buys Over 1000 Patents from IBM

Google announced today that it purchased more than 1000 patents from IBM in July. The purchase was first reported by SEObytheSea, which broke the news before Google’s official statement.

IBM has one of the largest patent portfolios in the industry. Most of the patents that Google acquired are related to search engines and search technology.

“Like many tech companies, at times we’ll acquire patents that are relevant to our business,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Google recently lost a bid for Nortel’s patent portfolio, which was sold for $4.5 billion dollars to a consortium comprising Apple, Microsoft, RIM and others. Google and its device partners are being sued by many companies including Apple, Microsoft and Oracle for patent infringement related to Android.

Since then, they have been trying to get their hands on some patents related to wireless technology, so they can at least defend themselves and their Android partners from litigation.

While this buy doesn’t seem to be related to Android at all, it does signal that Google is finally starting to build up their patent portfolio.

It is currently in talks to acquire InterDigital, which has close to 8,800 patents. Apparently, Apple is also courting InterDigital, trying to buy it with its huge stash of cash.

IBM Creates World’s Fastest Transistor Using Graphene

IBM on Tuesday, 12th April, announced that they have made the world’s fastest transistor using graphene and also hinted that they might go into commercial production very soon. This is major news, as graphene might revolutionize the current semi-conductor industry scenario. Graphene may even be good enough to replace silicon, the standard material used in all of today’s semi-conductor devices, in the near future.

What is Graphene? How is it produced?

Graphene is a mono-layer of carbon, with the atoms in hexagonal configuration. Each of the carbon atoms has bonds with three neighboring carbon atoms, maintaining, what is called, a sp2 hybridization. Basically, it is one layer of graphite.

Graphite Structure
The Structure of Graphite

It is produced in the most mundane way you can think of. A pure crystal of graphite is repeatedly stripped off using Scotch Tape, until, about 50 or more repetitions later, graphene is found buried amongst poly- or bi-layered graphite (Pic below). This has to be verified, and can be done so optically, after the extracted graphene is mounted on a Silicon Dioxide (SiO2) substrate of correct thickness. Often, Raman spectroscopy is used for verification.

Graphene under light
How Graphene looks under light and the right thickness of Si layer. (Courtesy: Graphene Industries)

Other methods, which allow graphene to be grown for commercial purposes, are also known. Primary among these is Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD), in which carbon vapour (obtained from carbon rich substances like acetylene) is deposited on a Ni or Cu substrate.


How did IBM do it?

Graphene grown directly on a SiO2 substrate suffers from the problem of scattering of electrons, resulting in the deterioration of the transport properties and also producing non-uniformity across the SiO2 wafer. The IBM team used a novel substrate called Diamond-like Carbon’ (DLC) on top of the SiO2 layer so as to reduce the scattering. DLC is loosely amorphous (i.e. powdered) diamond. It has all atoms in sp3 configuration (i.e. each atom bonds to four neighbors) and tetrahedral arrangement, but, being a powder, lacks any fracture planes. Thus, having the necessary properties of diamond, it is also flexible and can easily be used as a coating over a substrate.

Graphene couples weakly to the DLC layer and this greatly reduces the scattering, as also the temperature dependence of the material. In fact, the transport properties of DLC-grown graphene remains almost (maybe, exactly) temperature independent right up to 4.3K (which is minus 269 Centigrade).

The IBM team took graphene, made using CVD on a Cu layer, and, after protecting with polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), dissolved the Cu layer using FeCl3. Then, the PMMA-graphene was transferred to a DLC layer on the SiO2 substrate and the PMMA was got rid of. Raman spectroscopy was used to verify the quality of the graphene layer.

Graphene lends itself readily to fabrication of Field Effect Transistors (FETs). By constructing the gate, drain and source contacts using pure metal and properly calibrating their device, the IBM team achieved input-output characteristics similar to a Si FET. Further, they achieved very high switching speeds up to 26 GHz for a 550 nm long device.


Arrangement of a FET Graphene transistor
Schematic representation of a graphene FET (Courtesy: Nature)

What a graphene transistor actually looks like

How will it score over Si transistors?

Graphene transistors will be ideal in radio frequency (RF) range signals, due to their high switching speeds. Unlike Si transistors, their properties don’t degrade at low temperatures. This means that there will be no unnatural change in transport properties as the temperature is varied.

The problem graphene transistors have is that they have low on-off voltage ratio. However, that is not a very strict condition for RF communication. A more serious problem is that of high contact resistance, which cannot be minimized, unlike MOSFET‘s in case of Si.



IBM reports that transistors with cut-off frequencies (the frequency at which the current gain becomes unity) as high as 155 GHz have been achieved on a 40 nm device using short gate lengths.

A figure of merit is the product of cut-off frequency and gate length. IBM reports the figure of 13 GHz mm for the 550 nm device, which beats the highest value of 9 GHz mm for Si MOSFETS by a long margin.

The future may be here already.


How to Build Your Own IBM Watson

If you have been following the news keenly, you might know that the IBM-built Watson artificial intelligence supercomputer trounced two of game show Jeopardy!‘s most famous contestants recently. Developed under researcher David Ferrucci, the Watson supercomputer trounced Brad Rutter (winner of the biggest all-time money on the show) and Ken Jennings (record holder for the longest championship streak) in a two-game combined point match. All this is known to you, reader of Techie Buzz. But have you felt the urge to actually make your own supercomputer in your basement, provided you have enough money for the enterprise?


If you did, then you have come to the right place. Tony Pearson, Master Inventor and Senior Managing Consultant for the IBM System Storage product line at the IBM Executive Briefing Center in Tucson Arizona, has written up an easy-to-follow article on how to build your own supercomputer, called the “Watson Jr.. The system incorporates 3 host servers (as opposed to the senior Watson’s 90 servers) and will approximately have 1 terabyte of storage in total. The supercomputer might not be as fancy as the Jeopardy! winning artificial intelligence but it does promise to be a fun summer project if you have enough time and money to invest in (and, of course, a large-enough space to house the computer in).

The basic needs of this computer are as follows:-

  • Three x86 hosts, with the following:
    • 64-bit quad-core processor, either Intel-VT or AMD-V capable,
    • 8GB of DRAM, or larger
    • 300GB of hard disk, or larger
    • CD or DVD Read/Write drive
    • 1GbE Ethernet
  • Computer Monitor, mouse and keyboard
  • Ethernet 1GbE 4-port hub, and appropriate RJ45 cables
  • Surge protector and Power strip
  • Local Console Monitor (LCM) 4-port switch (formerly known as a KVM switch)

I can see your hands itching to get to the meat of it, so do check out the tutorial on IBM’s website before going shopping!

Watson Is More Than Just Jeopardy!

Watson is the latest innovation at IBM. A master of natural language processing, it is the ultimate desire of a computer system: to clearly understand a human spoken language. This sounds like an easy task as it comes naturally to us humans, though computers have never been this good with natural language until now.

Watson recorded a breakthrough in computing by winning Jeopardy. So, did IBM create the Watson system just to win Jeopardy? Definitely not. Watson has been seen as a possible means of doing complex calculations involving natural language. This ability to process unstructured data and to comprehend natural language makes Watson the Skynet we saw in Terminator movies.

Watson is befriending various universities and a communication company Nuance is channeling Watson’s resources to the healthcare industry. In short, Watson has big plans to help the world. The first commercial offering is expected in the next two years. This sudden wake towards computing power and the results shown by Watson has finally proven that the way information is shared and accessed will change, not only for us, but also for computer systems. In short, we can expect much better and superior automated stock predictions, sentiment analysis for product sales and future predictions based on proper analysis of mathematical data as well as textual data.

Learn more about Watson at this page from IBM. For some better insight into Watson, see this Q&A at Reddit.

Watson Supercomputer Pwns Humans in Jeopardy!

It’s all over now. The massive   IBM computer, named Watson, has destroyed its two human opponents in the last round of this epic 3 day Jeopardy! battle.


This adds more weight to the belief that computers will soon be running the world, and humans will be obsolete. Watson is made up of 100 IBM Power 750 server units and 15 terabytes of onboard ram.


Here’s what a IBM blogger said about the final moments of the game.

The contest between man and machine on Jeopardy! was decided when IBM’s Watson computer landed on the second Daily Double on day three.   The clue was: This two-word phrase means the power to take private property for public use as long as there is just compensation.Watson’s response: What is eminent domain?

The answer eminent domain, is now also the status of Watson’s tally versus his merely human opponents. Watson scored $77,147, compared to $24,000 for Ken Jennings and $21,600 for Brad Rutter. Jennings admitted defeat as he wrote the following under his final answer:

I for one welcome our new computer overlords.

Here’s a video from day 2 of the show.

So what’s next for computers? They already beat us at chess and Jeopardy. Will a computer win the Indy 500 next? It’s possible, since Google has already developed cars that drive themselves.

I’m guessing that the only way to beat these smart machines is to join them. Are you ready to become Human 2.0 ?

Watson Supercomputer Ties in First Jeopardy Game Against Humans

IBM_Watson_AvatarValentine’s Day wasn’t all hearts and flowers, as a massive IBM computer faced off against two human opponents on the popular Jeopardy! TV game. IBM has been working on a computer that not only understands human language, but can answer riddles based on it’s ability to search a huge database and determine the most likely answer.

The computer is called Watsonand is made up of 100 IBM Power 750 server units and 15 terabytes of onboard ram. Here’s what IBM said about Watson, just before the first game:

After seven years of research and planning, thousands of hours of testing and over fifty champion-level sparring matches, Watson is finally ready to face the two greatest Jeopardy!champions in history – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

This contest is scheduled to run three days, and after the first day, Watson has won $5000, is tied for first place with Brad Rutter, with Ken Jennings in third place, with $2000. At the end of the show, it was obvious that Watson was bright and fast, but he has a few flaws that kept him from running away with a big win.

Here’s a video of the first show. It may not be online long, because it was put up by someone without permission from Jeopardy.

There’s no doubt now, that computers are getting smarter. Many people believe that by 2045, computers will be running the world, and humans will be obsolete. Due to recent discoveries in electronics, I’d be tempted to put the date at 2040. Move aside Big Brother, it’s only a matter of time before Skynet wakes up.

2010: The Year Of Acquisitions For Google, Oracle and IBM

The year 2010 has seen a rapid change in the way people approach and use their computers, technology the Internet. Social networks had a growth boost and controversial political events framed the future of many companies in certain geographical regions of the world. However, 2010 has sure been an extremely successful time for acquisitions. Almost every tech-giant out there was on an acquisition spree. While some made the acquisitions for obvious reasons like controlling IP and killing competition, others made it to make use of the acquisitions as resources for development.


As you can see in this graph, the acquisition spree rose twice, once around April and another time around August. The August rise is completely dominated by Google, which took six companies. IBM has also maintained a consistent acquisition drive throughout the year.


The most notable acquisition spree was that of Google. It acquired a total of 25 companies in this term of 11 months. IBM lagged behind as the second one with 14 companies added under its banner.

Oracle had just acquired Sun Microsystems and started abusing its IP against the Google Android (Dalvik) implementation of Java VM technologies. The acquisition of Sun Microsystems brought a huge payload of IP for Oracle to abuse. HP acquired Palm and saved it from dying a sad death. Microsoft was busy with its latest Kinect toy and acquired Canesta, Inc. that deals in 3D sensing. AOL acquired TechCrunch and others players like Cisco were in the acquisition game too.

Counting by numbers, this puts roughly 70 acquisitions by companies that rather form the top notch of the tech industry. Just last year, this number was at 33, which is even less than 50% of what is happening this year. Surprisingly, the figure stood at around 55 in 2008 with IBM and Microsoft making 14 and 16 acquisitions each.

This shows that the void created during the recession has started an overdrive and the next year should be quite good for the IT industry.

(Stats via Wikipedia)

IBM Claims another Computing Breakthrough, Now Measuring How Long a Single Atom Holds a Bit of Information

IBM has claimed yet another breakthrough in computing and data storage with the ability to record the behavior of atoms on a scale of nanoseconds. This will let them study changes in the behavior of atoms to data storage accurately. The press release claiming this say,

SAN JOSE, Calif., September 24, 2010 Today IBM (NYSE:  IBM) researchers published a breakthrough technique in the peer-reviewed journal  Science that measures how long a single atom can hold information, and giving scientists the ability to record, study and “visualize” extremely fast phenomena inside these atoms.

Just a few days ago, IBM claimed a speed improvement by replacing copper wires. This development follows the last one in less than a month and combined, these two can take computing to a new level.

The video of the first speed measurement capture is available on YouTube.

The complete press release can be read here.