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Deep Blue was a purpose-built computer that was extremely good at one thing: playing chess, or more precisely, analyzing chess positions. It was really, really fast, but it wasn’t particularly subtle. It used its hardware, which included specialized “chess chips,” to work out the consequences of a move to greater depth than any human player could imagine. In the end, the project helped rekindle IBM’s long-dormant interest in supercomputers, but Deep Blue itself led nowhere because all it could do was play chess.
Watson, on the other hand. is more a natural outgrowth of the challenges of business analytics. Deep QA, Watson’s parent, is based on an open source project called Unstructured Information Management Architecture that aims to find answers to real-world question from the vast amounts of information that exists outside of structured databases. The Watson hardware is based on IBM’s Blue Gene/p series of commercial supercomputers. In other words, Watson may be a publicity stunt, but unlike Deep Blue, it is promoting real IBM products.