IBM's question-answering whiz, the Watson computer system, famously beat former winners on Jeopardy in 2011 — and now it's digging into aerospace research and data to help NASA answer questions on the frontier of spaceflight science and make crucial decisions in the moment during air travel.
Watson is able to respond to questions that it is asked in natural language — or as a human would ask another human, as opposed to through search terms — and unlike a search engine, where more information can muddle the results, Watson returns better answers when the user gives it more detail, Codella said. At Langley, the system will return what it ranks as the most relevant passages in its database when a user asks it a question. While human researchers couldn't hope to internalize all the aerospace research out there, Watson doesn't have that limitation.
"That was the initial emphasis here: Have a system that could read it all, make sense of it all," Codella said. "The number of documents Watson could read is in principle unlimited."
More than 60 years after the first IBM computing machines showed up in the halls of NASA's Langley Research Center, new work at Langley will use IBM tech to help researchers sort through the huge volumes of data that is generated by aerospace research.
"There's so much data out there that consists of unstructured text that usually only humans can make sense of, but the challenge is that there's too much of it for any human being to read," Chris Codella, an IBM Distinguised Engineer who is working on Watson, told Space.com. "The idea here is to have a Watson system that can be a research development advisor to people who work in the aerospace fields."
Watson operates with what IBM calls cognitive computing — essentially, it draws connections after examining huge volumes of data that is fed to it, and it is able to return highly relevant answers within the fields that data encompasses. The system has been used to analyze connections within medical and scientific research documents, make potential diagnoses, invent recipes and analyze people's personality traits through social media posts. (Plus, of course, play Jeopardy! — after the system drew from Wikipedia to help build its knowledge base.)
IBM chief technical officer Rob High spoke at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia about using the company's Watson computer system to streamline aerospace research.
Watson researchers are also working with NASA to develop a program that provides important information to pilots "on the fly" — during flight, when they need to make quick decisions and don't have time to gather all the information they might need.
"The very first demonstration system we built was meant to surface relevant information to a pilot in flight," Codella said. NASA "tried to recreate an incident that happened in one of the airlines a few years ago and see if Watson could, when given the background information, surface information that would have made a difference, had the pilot known it at the time."
Read more here: www.space.com/35042-ibm-watson-computer-nasa-research.html