Question Answering is an increasingly popular Natural Language Processing task, defined in the wikipedia as "the task of automatically answering a question posed in natural language. To find the answer to a question, a QA computer program may use either a pre-structured database or a collection of natural language documents (a text corpus such as the World Wide Web or some local collection)." In other words, an Information Retrieval system / Search Engine does not return a list of references or documents, but it actually is able to cleverly process the question, digg into the documents, and get an appropriate answer.
Question Answering is a very active research topic among NLPers. There are competitions like the TREC and CLEF tracks on Q&A, and some systems have been deployed to real applications (from within Search Engines like Ask.com to domain-specific systems like
EAGLi for biomedicine). But, now, IBM gains popularity for their system Watson with aiming at a nearly Turing Test: beating humans at Jeopardy!
Jeopardy is a game demanding knowledge and quick recall, covering a broad range of topics, such as history, literature, politics, film, pop culture, and science. IBM believes that this is the final challenge for their system Watson, one of the leaders on this area. Do you remember Deep Blue? Ok, this time is not to beat a person in terms of specific skills (only), like reasoning and hypotetizing, but also in dialog! This is very close to a real Turing Test!
If Watson is able to beat the winner of Jeopardy, will we be closer to a real AI? Are HAL or Skynet waiting for us behind that door?