If you’ve seen commercials on TV for IBM’s new “Watson” computer, you might have thought, “A computer that’s gonna play Jeopardy!?  The future is here,” and then flipped back to the Discovery Channel.

"I'll take 'Potent Potables' for $1,000, Alex."

This article is not about the unbelievable cinematography of Planet Earth, although that is something to be commended. No, this article is about how IBM and its Watson computer are innovating, changing, and busting through barriers to, well, Build a Smarter Planet™.

Starting tonight will air the first of three Jeopardy! shows in which  IBM’s Watson computer will go head-to-screen with reigning champions of the famous game show (Remember Ken Jennings? You can bet your Daily Double he’ll be there, along with Brad Rutter). One might not think it’s that big a deal; after all, we have robots for a lot of different things in the 21st century. But the technology behind Watson is kind of different. It represents the future of data management, analytics, and most interestingly, natural language.

Watson promises to answer questions not designed for a computer to answer.  The structure of Jeopardy’s questions showcases the intricacies of natural language, slang, and shorthand, making it an almost perfect platform for a test.

Watson will extract knowledge at a faster rate from enormous amounts of data than any other human or computer. “It [Watson] represents IBM’s most ambitious foray into deep analytics and natural language processing.”

Why Jeopardy!? “Because the nature of the game drives technology in the right direction,” says an IBM engineer. “It requires the player to be RESPONSIVE and fast – don’t click your buzzer if you don’t have the answer.”

And in test runs, Watson has proven to be both responsive and fast. It’s not about a single keyword search – it’s actually closer to the way humans communicate.

“People get natural language because it’s a human artifact. They relate words, phrases and ideas to the way they think. They ground that information in human cognition and human experience,” say the engineers.

Not that we’re promoting IBM or anything, but we must say that as a group of nerds, this challenge has piqued our interest. Tell us who you think will win tonight’s man-vs.-machine showdown by visiting our Facebook page!