Watson is that supercomputer you watched on Jeopardy! in 2011, who competed with Ken Jennings, the longest winning streak holder on said television show (74 consecutive wins), and Bradford Rutter. Rutter holds the record for the second-highest earning American game show contestant of all time. Watson, the IBM supercomputer, would win against Jennings and Rutter, which wasn’t a surprise for many since Watson is one of the most advanced question-answering computer systems on the planet.

Well, what most people don’t know is that Watson isn’t just for the question and answer game shows. Since 2013, Watson has been helping to save thousands of cancer patients’ lives using its powerful software system. But how does a machine help cancer patients? More so, how do they help US military veterans?

The Beginning of Watson

The conceptualization of Watson initially began when IBM was looking to top their successful super IBM computer, Deep Blue. The people over at IBM were brainstorming ways they could beat the capabilities of Deep Blue. Deep Blue notably defeated chess world champion Garry Kasparov in a 6 game-match in 1996. However, the system’s predecessor, Deep Thought, was previously beat by Kasparov in 1989. This meant that there were still gaps in the super computer’s system, meaning it could be improved further despite being considered computer science’s milestone in achieving powerful artificial intelligence.

IBM's Deep Blue Computer at a Computer History Museum (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IBM_Deep_Blue_at_Computer_History_Museum_(9361685537).jpg
IBM’s Deep Blue Computer at a Computer History Museum (Anton Chiang from Cupertino, CA, USACC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

One day in 2004, Charles Lickel, IBM’s Research Manager, was out with several friends and co-workers for dinner when the restaurant suddenly fell silent—Ken Jennings, the record holder for most wins on Jeopardy! had just come up on the television.