Conversational Assistant / 03.02.2014

Hear Watson, hear.

In 2011 IBM’s Watson Computer won the American quiz show Jeopardy. It did so on live TV, beating two of the all time great (human) contestants of the show. In the Indian context, this would be a bit like a computer going on Kaun Banega Crorepati, interacting with Amithabh Bachan, and becoming a Crorepati.  Are we going to see that happen some day?

American quiz show

Though Watson did play the game like a human contestant, thinking about the next move, pressing the buzzer etc., a little known fact is that Watson was fed the questions in text form rather than speech. Some people think this made the whole show a gimmick. After all Google can consume text too. So what was the difference between them? In the simplest terms, Google returns the most popular page containing a phrase. Watson “understands” the phrase.

So if you ask Google a question like “How many cows are there in India?” Google will return all the pages on the entire internet, containing the word Cow and India. A few of those pages will have the real answer. The top most link returned may or may not have the most current information, as the popularity of the page makes a difference to Google. Watson on the other hand will return a number. The most current known number.

Try it out here – wolframalpha.com – which uses similar underlying tech.

So what did IBM show us? They showed us, a system can be built that can answer questions. Real answers not just pages of links. Answers to anything. They showed that it required 2880 processor cores with access to 15 terabytes of human knowledge. The whole setup was the size of a large bedroom. But that was two years ago, and we all know how things change these days.

Today Watson is the size of a pizza box. And IBM is expecting it, to pass the US Medical Licensing Exam any day now. It is just a matter of time, before we have a doctor sitting inside our mobile devices. And many other domain experts there after. So will Doctors become irrelevant? Definitely not. They will just become more effective at what they do. After all game shows haven’t disappeared.

Speaking of which, are we going to see a computer win Kaun Benega Crorepati? Will it happen in Hindi and Tamil? Most definitely yes.

Natural Language Processing

NLP or Natural Language Processing is the technology that allows Watson to “understand” the text. It is the technology that both the Uniphore Product and R&D teams will continue enhancing this year. Uniphore is a pioneer on local Indian languages in both Speech Recognition and NLP, and has helped businesses reach out to 3,500,000 end customers in 14+ languages and 100+ dialects.

Write to Sharun Shanthosh (AVP – Product Engineering, Uniphore Software Systems) at sharun@uniphore.com to understand more about our Speech Recognition and Natural Language Processing technology.

About Uniphore: Uniphore Software Systems is the leader in Multi lingual speech-based software solutions. Uniphore’s solutions allow any machine to understand and respond to natural human speech, thus enabling humans to use the most natural of communication modes, speech, to engage and instruct machines. Uniphore operates from its corporate headquarters at IIT Madras Research Park, Chennai, India and has sales offices in Middle East (Dubai, UAE) as well as in Manila, Philippines.