Watson is a computer currently playing the quiz Jeopardy. You can see a video of this here
One useful question is how long this sort of supercomputer like power will take to be seen in everyday life? It has 3000 cores running and answers in less than three seconds. On one machine would take 2 hours to answer a question according to here
So how long to get a desktop computer to be able to answer at this speed? I propose that half the speed improvement in Watson like programs will be from Moore's law and half from algorithm improvements. To go from 7200 seconds to say 2 seconds will require about 13 halvings in speed. I predict this will occur in the time it take processors to improve 7 doublings in computation. You can buy your own supercomputer now on the cloud and depending on how long you are willing to wait you could get an answer to a Watson like answer for costs of around a dollar (if you had the data and software Watson uses).
One comparison here is with chess. "It has been estimated that doubling the computer speed gains approximately fifty to seventy Elo points in playing strength (Levy & Newborn 1991:192)."
If doubling in processing power happens ever two years that would imply about a 30 point increase a year. The actual improvement (in computer v computer games) is described as 'With a 40-point annual improvement due to hardware upgrades, and a 30-point annual improvement due to software upgrades'. Implying improved algorithms are responsible for half the improvement.
This argument is summed up in this explanation as to why a fairly normal computer Deep Fritz in 2002 was an improvement over the supercomputer Deep Blue in 1997 'Deep Fritz has improved considerably over Deep Blue. Despite Deep Fritz having available only about 1.3% as much brute force computation, it plays chess at about the same level because of its superior pattern-recognition-based pruning algorithm'
I claim there is an analogy to Moore's law that says something like.
Once computers get good enough at a task to have a flashy TV challenge from then on algorithms will cause half the improvement in that task
So if I am right I think Watson like computation instead of talking over 25 years to move from twelve refrigerators to something we can use everyday should take less than 10 years. I would take an even money bet that in five years there will be a service you can use from your phone that is a lot closer to Watson than to a search engine we see today.
*update A friend just made this bet with me
"20 euro bet that January 2015 there is a search engine that with a set of quiz questions from one gameshow program (the weakest link, who want to be a millionaire, university challenge) and it has to get 7/10 right". The effects of learning by reading (and autonomous cars) are examined in this rather long but brilliant blogpost