Watson Technologies Director gives lecture on Jeopardy!-winning AI system

Watson-IBM-HarringtonEric W. Brown, director of Watson Technologies at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Lab, gave a talk at SUNY New Paltz on March 24 about future applications of the IBM computing system renowned for defeating two grand champions of the quiz show “Jeopardy!”

Brown’s lecture, entitled “Watson: The ‘Jeopardy!’ Challenge and Beyond,” was the latest in a series of talks on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics named in honor of John Harrington, the founding dean of the School of Science and Engineering. The Harrington STEM Lecture Series has been bringing leading scientists to campus to speak with students and faculty for over a decade.

“Former Dean Harrington had the idea of creating a series of talks that would be of interest to anyone in the community,” said Diego Dominici, professor of mathematics and chair of the Colloquium Committee. “It’s another example of the excellent community outreach here at the College. The series gives anyone interested in learning about STEM subjects the opportunity to hear from industry leaders.”

Brown spoke about his work harnessing the Watson technology for applications in healthcare. The Watson system, which famously defeated “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a series of exhibition matches in 2011, is capable of interpreting and answering questions posed in natural language by accurately analyzing linguistic complexities including irony, humor and subtle meaning. This capability, Brown told the audience, is what makes Watson a potentially effective tool for helping doctors make diagnoses based on patients’ histories and reports of symptoms.

“In medicine, the task is often to determine what’s wrong given a potentially large and complex history for the patient, then recommend a plan for addressing the problem, and monitor the results,” Brown said.  “My team is looking for ways to expand and enhance human expertise in medicine by providing efficient access to knowledge relevant to the task at hand.”

In addition to discussing his own work at IBM, Brown offered a message for New Paltz students who aspire to work in STEM fields after graduation. “One of the most exciting aspects of STEM is the opportunity to apply it to completely different domains, which allows students to combine several interests into an exciting career,” Brown said. “There are enormous opportunities in STEM, but the key is to keep up with the latest trends wherever possible.”

The Harrington STEM Lecture Series will continue Tuesday, April 21 with a talk from David Clark, professor emeritus in the department of mathematics at New Paltz, entitled “Creating Circuits Designs via Biological Evolution.”

More information about the Harrington STEM Lecture Series is available online.

More information about Eric W. Brown and the Thomas J. Watson Research Lab can be found at IBM’s website.