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Set Your Own Grand Challenge


MIAMI -- There is of course no event going on in America from January 14 through 16 than the 29th annual National Investment Company Service Association Conference & Expo.

Except perhaps Jeopardy.

What's going on on the 46-year-old answer-and-question show should have great impact on the mutual fund industry. And just about any business that wants to knowledgeably respond to human questions -- without necessarily using humans to do it.

Beginning Monday, Jeopardy was the stage for IBM's latest "grand challenge" in computing. Where a team of its digital scientists and a machine named Deep Blue knocked off the world's champion in chess in 1997, this time around Big Blue is pitting BlueGene (above) against two of Jeopardy's all-time greats, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

"When you see this program play, it's not connected to the Internet. It has its own knowledge base, it knows a lot of facts. It has a lot of natural language understanding capability,'' said Peter N. Johnson, Chief Technology Officer at BNY Mellon Asset Servicing during Tuesday's CIO Roundtable here. 

Remember this: Jeopardy answers use idioms and tricky phrases to provoke the right question to be posed by the players. Inference is key.

But BlueGene, aka Watson, also has to have extremely fast search, in order to beat a rival to the buzzer. And it also has to have the confidence that it has the right answer, before it utters its response.

Sounds a lot like a perfect call center in a box. Or maybe even a cost-basis reporting consulting engine. Or a way to deal with any huge database that runs information that has to be shared with humans. Or maybe even to advise a board of directors. 

Let's check the Jeopardy grand challenge scorecard.

Monday night: Rutter and Watson finished with $5,000. Jennings was last, at $2,000.

Tuesday night: Jennings was up to $4,800. Rutter's two-day total was $10,400. Watson was at ... $35,734.

Tonight a champion gets crowned on Jeopardy. Who wins?

You do. If you set your own grand challenge.

So, what is the question you want answered?