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Watson Appears at Louisville’s IdeaFestival

IBM’s Watson computer is using its technology to explore how it can help government agencies and hospitals.

Watson appeared in front of a crowd at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts for Louisville’s IdeaFestival. Watson is best known for its success in the game show Jeopardy. IBM researcher David Shepler explained to a crowd Watson’s successes, and its limitations.

“Watson’s going to do a whole lot of things to help free up our time so we can  be more inventive and create. Watson is not going to be creative for us,” he said.

Shepler said Watson works out ideas just like the human brain and uses a series of complex organizing to reach its answers. During Jeopardy, the computer will choose an answer and decide how much it trusts it. If it reaches a certain level of confidence it will decide to answer the question (the picture above shows percentages of trust). But Watson’s success isn’t just that it can research information quickly, he said.

“The fundamental differences are the precision in the system to tell you exactly your answer and to tell you much to trust that answer. In the case of a search engine you have no idea, you have to make that assessment for yourself. If you see an article in the New York Times, maybe you trust that more than Joe’s blog,” said Shepler.

Watson is often confused by language like metaphors or culture references but Watson’s best assets won’t be popular culture or trivia, he said. IBM researchers are currently testing technology that can be used in the medical field to help doctors make decisions (IBM’s Burn Lewis, pictured below, runs the modified version of Jeopardy. Lewis said IMB’s research and software divisions are working together to explore new options for Watson’s technology).

Shepler said the way humans interact with computers is changing, but it’s far from taking over human creativity. After Sheplers’ presentation, students challenged the computer to a game of Jeopardy. Shepler said Jeopardy contestants can answer a question in three seconds on average. Often, Watson is faster.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Mayor’s Office Will Relocate to IdeaFestival

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and his staff are relocating their offices to the IdeaFestival next week to help promote the annual event and encourage innovative thinking.

Founded in 2000, the three-day festival is setup to bring people from around the world to the city with diverse backgrounds, knowledge and perspectives on various cutting-edge ideas. The topics range from cooking to government to technology, and has been one of the more popular local events over the past decade.

Fischer is encouraging all citizens to attend and participate in an effort to encourage “out-of-the-box thinking” and says the temporary move will help inspire new ideas in his administration.

“The IdeaFestival embodies the very type of innovation that should become the default culture in Louisville,” Fischer said in a news release. “Moving our offices gets city leaders out of their everyday routine to be surrounded with other creative, innovative thinkers from across the globe.”

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State of Affairs

The Superorganism


Friday, September 25, 2009
The Superorganism
Sure, they have a bad reputation for ruining picnics, but there’s more to ants than that. According to sociobiologist Bert Hölldobler, they have complex societies and behaviors, and they live by intricate rules of social order. This Friday we’ll talk with Dr. Hölldobler about the lives of insects – and what they can teach us about our own social behavior – in a live broadcast from the IdeaFestival.

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State of Affairs

A.J. Jacobs


Thursday, September 24, 2009
A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs, author of The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, takes the idiom “walk a mile in my shoes” to a whole other level. For The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs strictly followed all the rules of the Old Testament including not wearing clothes of mixed fibers in an effort to understand the Bible. In The Know-It-All, Jacobs attempted to become smarter by reading the encyclopedia from A to Z. He would be the first to tell you it didn’t work. His latest book details other immersive experiences he’s undergone to get to know his subjects better. It’s an unusual approach to journalism and life that has led to telling and often comical insights into who we are and who we could be.

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State of Affairs

Mr. Jefferson & the Giant Moose


Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Mr. Jefferson & the Giant Moose
Thomas Jefferson took great pride in his country, and great offense when French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon said everything in the natural world of America, from the animals to the humans, was inferior to its European kin. Jefferson took matters into his own hands and had an American Moose carcass shipped to France with the intention of having it stuffed and mounted to prove to Buffon that our moose were superior to any animal in Europe. So what’s the real story here? Join us on Wednesday when we are live from the IdeaFestival with Lee Dugatkin, author of Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose.

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State of Affairs

The Intersection of Literature & Science


Friday, September 26, 2008
The Intersection of Literature and Science
Jonah Lehrer, author, journalist, scientist, chef – with a double major in neuroscience and English. So isn’t it interesting that his “aha” moment came when he was taking a break from a neuroscience experiment and decided to read a little Marcel Proust? Once Lehrer began reading “Swann’s Way” he realized Proust was talking about the very thing he was trying to prove in the lab – and the result of this discovery was his book “Proust was a Neuroscientist”. Join us live from the IdeaFestival on Friday when we talk with Lehrer about the intersection of Literature and Science.

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Blog Archive State of Affairs Blog

Come See State of Affairs at IdeaFestival!

Come See State of Affairs at IdeaFestival!

If you’re planning to be at the IdeaFestival on Thursday or Friday, stop by and visit with State of Affairs. We’ll be in the lobby just inside the main entrance, with Julie and our guests, broadcasting live. Come listen in and sit a spell on your lunch break or on your way to or from your IF sessions. Thursday we’re joined by puzzle master Will Shortz, and Friday we’re talking about the intersection of Science and Literature with Jonah Lehrer. We’ll be there from 11am until noon both days, and it’s free to come listen. See you there!