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LinuxCon Preview: Details on the Watson Exhibit

 

After strutting its stuff on Jeopardy! earlier this year, IBM's Watson will be included at LinuxCon in a special exhibit August 17-19, 2011. We got some time with the IBM Power Systems Product Marketing Manager Ian Jarman to better understand what we can expect and what Watson and its IBM team have been working on since their very public victory earlier this year.

Please tell us about the Watson exhibit planned for LinuxCon. What should attendees expect?

Jarman: You can try your luck against Watson in a simulated demonstration of the system used on the Jeopardy! show. You'll also be able to learn more about the technology behind Watson, including its impressive 90 IBM Power 750 servers, with 2880 POWER7 processor cores and 15 TB of memory. Most of all, I hope you share some of the passion and excitement that I and so many others feel for Watson. The most moving moments I experienced on the project were actually during some of Watson's pre-show sparring matches. These were held in the IBM Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights in the small, practice Jeopardy! set right by the Watson machine room.

Playing against two previous Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions contestants, Watson cruised to victory in the first game. Seeing Watson in action close up, you couldn't help but have a very deep and special feeling of pride for all the people on the IBM Research team. In the second game, however, a young defense analyst from Washington D.C. hit the two daily doubles and won a close game. I happened to be sitting next to her mother in the audience just a few feet away, and I could literally feel her love and pride at having such a talented daughter. So, I left IBM that day knowing just how difficult it was going to be to compete against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the exhibition match. The stakes and the risks were going to be very high indeed. And this grand challenge was not going to be about man v. machine; it was going to be about people at their very best.

Photo Credit: John Tolva

Since its impressive appearance on Jeopardy!, what has Watson and the Watson team been working on?

Jarman: The IBM Research team has switched its attention to commercializing Watson technology, with health care as their first target. We don't expect Watson to replace doctors, of course, but we believe that Watson's DeepQA technology will be very valuable as an advisor in medical diagnostics. And the fact that Watson was based on commercially available Power 750 servers, makes it easy for us to scale Watson down to a system designed for a group medical practice.

Why is Watson based on Linux? What advantages does Linux give the supercomputer?

Jarman: Actually, we don't view Watson as a supercomputer. Compared to the Power 775 Supercomputer that has up to 500,000 POWER7 cores, Watson looks like a fairly small cluster. Instead, we prefer to talk of Watson as a workload optimized system, using a cluster of commercially available servers. In any case, using Linux was vital to the IBM Research team as they based their Watson development on a number of open source technologies, including Java, Apache, Hadoop and Apache Unstructured Information Management Architecture or UIMA. Watson also was a great showcase for Linux on Power Linux, demonstrating POWER7 scalability and performance in a unique Linux benchmark.

This is such an important year for both Linux and IBM. Linux turns 20 and IBM is celebrating 100 years. How has Linux shaped the kind of company IBM is today? How has it contributed to your company overall?

Jarman: In 2000, Linux received an important boost when IBM announced it would embrace Linux as strategic to its systems strategy. A year later, IBM invested US$1 billion to back the Linux movement, embracing it as an operating system for IBM servers and software. IBM’s actions grabbed the attention of CEOs and CIOs around the globe and helped Linux become accepted by the business world.  By inserting IBM developers directly into Linux communities, IBM engaged Linux development in natural ways, as a team of individuals, rather as than a lumbering and monolithic corporate contributor. IBM learned that involvement required influence in place of control and embraced the broad Linux community—benefitting greatly from the wisdom of the crowds. In 2011, Linux is a fundamental component of IBM business—embedded deeply in hardware, software, services and internal development. It is present in every IBM business, geography and workload, and its use only continues to increase.

IBM’s success today, and in the future, is inextricably linked to the healthy growth and expansion of Linux development.

For more information about Watson's appearance at LinuxCon and how you can test your own knowledge against the machine, visit our LinuxCon website.

 

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