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Next step for IBM's Watson not so trivial

Machines first out-calculated us in simple math. Then they replaced us on the assembly lines, explored places we couldn't get to, even beat our champions at chess. Now a computer called Watson has bested our best at "Jeopardy."

A gigantic computer created by IBM specifically to excel at answers-and-questions left two champs of the TV game show in its silicon dust after a three-day tournament, a feat that experts call a technological breakthrough.

Watson earned $77,147, versus $24,000 for Ken Jennings and $21,600 for Brad Rutter.

The next step for the IBM machine and its programmers: taking its mastery of the arcane and applying it to help doctors plow through blizzards of medical information. Watson could also help make Internet searches far more like a conversation than the hit-or-miss things they are now.

Watson, which took 25 IBM scientists four years to create, is more than just a trivia whiz, some experts say.

Richard Doherty, a computer industry expert and research director at the Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y., said he has been studying artificial intelligence for decades. He thinks IBM's advances with Watson are changing the way people think about artificial intelligence.

"This is the most significant breakthrough of this century," he said. "I know the phones are ringing off the hook with interest in Watson systems. The Internet may trump Watson, but for this century, it's the most significant advance in computing."

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