A computer system that can directly and precisely answer natural language questions over an open and broad range of knowledge has been envisioned by scientists and writers since the advent of computers themselves. While current computers can store and deliver a wealth of digital content created by humans, they are unable to operate over it in human terms. The quest for building a computer system that can do open-domain Question Answering is ultimately driven by a broader vision that sees computers operating more effectively in human terms rather than strictly computer terms. They should function in ways that understand complex information requirements, as people would express them, for example, in natural language questions or interactive dialogs. Computers should deliver precise, meaningful responses, and synthesize, integrate, and rapidly reason over the breadth of human knowledge as it is most rapidly and naturally produced -- in natural language text.
The DeepQA project at IBM shapes a grand challenge in Computer Science that aims to illustrate how the wide and growing accessibility of natural language content and the integration and advancement of Natural Language Processing, Information Retrieval, Machine Learning, Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, and massively parallel computation can drive open-domain automatic Question Answering technology to a point where it clearly and consistently rivals the best human performance. A first stop along the way is the Jeopardy! Challenge, where we are planning to build an automated system that will compete with human grand champions in the game of Jeopardy!. In this talk, we will give an overview of the DeepQA project and the Jeopardy! Challenge.