IBM’s supercomputer Watson visits ASU

SUPERCOMPUTER TALK: Steve Beckis from Intel Corporation talks to a group of students at the A2C2 and IBM High Performance Computing Event Wednesday afternoon in the Memorial Union. (Photo by Rosie Gochnour)

ASU Advanced Computing Center, A2C2, hosted an event on the Tempe campus Wednesday featuring IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, and a group of speakers to explain its functions.

The supercomputer is famous for its appearance on “Jeopardy” in February 2010, when it defeated longtime “Jeopardy” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

The event’s purpose was to explain to audience members — a group of about 150 — how Watson and A2C2’s Saguaro supercomputer function as well as display their power. The presentation began with an introduction by Frank Timmes, director of A2C2.

It took some “motivation and drive” to coordinate the event and several months of planning, Timmes said.

“It was a matter of coming up with the idea,” he said.

It was the third event of its kind to feature Watson. Previously, Watson was featured in San Diego and Texas, Timmes said.

The remaining speakers discussed the construction and function of Watson and other supercomputers.

James Lowey, the director of High-Performance Biocomputing at TGen, spoke about the next generation of computation. Other speakers included engineering professors and IBM employees.

“I’ve heard of IBM’s Watson and was interested in the design of it,” physics freshman Julia Glesener said.

Speakers discussed not only Watson but a variety of topics, including “Using Simulations to Study Immiscible Interfaces in Complex Flows,” a presentation by ASU engineering professor Marcus Herrmann.

“I wanted to see what Watson is. I’ve heard of it through Jeopardy. I like the idea of the diagnostics,” film senior James Steller said.

IBM’s Tim Alper’s specifically discussed Watson and lead a “Jeopardy” challenge that included audience participation in order to display the computer’s power.

A2C2’s own supercomputer, Saguaro, can be found on the first floor of the Goldwater building on the Tempe campus.

“We want to let ASU know we’re here,” Timmes said. “We are the computing center for the New American University.”

Reach the reporter at apmccull@asu.edu

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