IBM’s famous Jeopardy-playing computer now has some ability to "understand the questions it is asked," reports Dario Borghino in Gizmag (5/9/14). Watson, as IBM’s computer is known, which made waves "three years ago for beating the very best human opponents at a game of Jeopardy," (video) can now "argue both for and against" any given topic. This is made possible by its abilities in "natural language processing," which adds an element of real-world context to what otherwise is purely "number-crunching."
Watson DeepQA, as it is known, works by grouping words, and "finding statistically related phrases … it then uses thousands of language analysis algorithms to sift through its database of 15 terabytes of human knowledge and find the correct answer. The more algorithms find the same answer independently, the more a certain answer is likely to be correct … Watson can now list, without human assistance, what it believes are the most valid arguments for and against a topic of choice … in natural language."
IBM’s John Kelly III recently demonstrated this by having Watson debate itself over whether violent video-games should be sold to minors. Using Wikipedia pages, Watson found "relevant information, scanned for arguments in favor and against the topic, selected what it believed were the strongest arguments, and then constructed sentences in natural language to illustrate the points it had selected" (video). IBM expects this technology will "prove very valuable" in both finding answers and culling insights in a variety of fields.