As reported in the New York Times, IBM's research division has been hard at work creating Watson, a machine that answers questions. Their tech demo is getting Watson to play Jeopardy! against previous Jeopardy! contestants:
Over the rest of the day, Watson went on a tear, winning four of six games. It displayed remarkable facility with cultural trivia ("This action flick starring Roy Scheider in a high-tech police helicopter was also briefly a TV series" — "What is 'Blue Thunder'?"), science ("The greyhound originated more than 5,000 years ago in this African country, where it was used to hunt gazelles" — "What is Egypt?") and sophisticated wordplay ("Classic candy bar that's a female Supreme Court justice" — "What is Baby Ruth Ginsburg?").
By the end of the day, the seven human contestants were impressed, and even slightly unnerved, by Watson. Several made references to Skynet, the computer system in the "Terminator" movies that achieves consciousness and decides humanity should be destroyed.
The Watson team has taken an approach that is complementary to what Wolfram Alpha has done, relying on NLP to parse source documents rather than using explicitly curated data. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Watson is being productionized and IBM is considering targeting this technology at niche applications as well, e.g. medical decision making. There are already moments when I feel as if the phone in my pocket (and access to Google, Wikipedia, etc.) is augmenting my intelligence and helping me to make better decisions. I can scarcely imagine how life will change when everyone has access to a Watson all the time.