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IBM computer Watson wins Jeopardy challenge, surprising no one



jeopardy_watson_ibm.jpgBefore the final question was revealed Wednesday, Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings welcomed "our new computer overlord," signaling his prediction that computer opponent Watson would walk away with the show's first competition between humans and a computer.

His prediction was correct, as Watson racked up over $77,000 in winnings over three days, nearly doubling Jennings' total and earning a $1-million grand prize which IBM donated to charity.

I'm not sure why it seemed unusual that a computer developed by dozens of designers utilizing a roomful of servers could beat a human. And I'm also not sure how cobbling together a computer which can divine who directed Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven faster than any human actually helps in the design of other systems, but it made for interesting television.

In an essay for Slate, Jennings explains why the show's audience was so solidly behind Watson -- the segments were filmed at a special studio built in an IBM lab, filled with employees as an audience -- and gets off some great lines. My fave: "Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman." 

Watson seemed to have more trouble with questions that were less literal, as you might expect, giving us a blueprint for how to defeat the next world-dominating supercomputer when it rears it's ugly head (Skynet, you've been warned!). PC World has a great blow by blow on how the competition played out.

Here's the press release:


CULVER CITY, CALIF. (February 16, 2011) – Today, IBM’s Watson made television history by winning the first-ever “Jeopardy!” man vs. machine competition and beating the quiz show’s two most celebrated and successful players -- Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

IBM will donate the $1 million dollar grand prize to two different charities: World Vision, a worldwide relief and development organization, and World Community Grid, whose mission is to create the world’s largest public computing grid.

Ken Jennings, who placed second, said he’s amazed by what has been accomplished.  “I’ve studied artificial intelligence, and I can say that this is an impressive and unprecedented moment,” he said.  “A few years ago, I didn't think it was possible for a computer to play at this level.  IBM knocked my socks off with how fast they've caught up.”

As runner-up, Jennings won $300,000 and will donate half of his winnings to the Seattle-based non-profit VillageReach. “Their work inarguably helps those who need it most -- children in the remotest villages of eastern Africa who need vaccines,” he said.

Third place winner Brad Rutter earned $200,000 and will donate half to the Community Foundation, which supports a wide variety of charitable projects – including the public library system -- in his hometown of Lancaster, Pa.  “I used to look forward to going to the library as the highlight of my week,” Rutter said.  “Reading all those books ignited a passion for knowledge that eventually led me to my success on ‘Jeopardy!,’ so it made a lot of sense to me.”

Regarding the competition, “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek said, "We were very honored that ‘Jeopardy!’ was selected as the testing ground for this new technology. Obviously there is still work to be done, but if this was just the tip of the iceberg then our viewers have much to look forward to...Watson, the new ‘Jeopardy!’ host!"

“No matter the result, Watson is an example of what human ingenuity and collaborative science can accomplish,” said Dr. David Ferrucci, principal investigator for the Watson Project, IBM Research. “Watching Watson compete with the two greatest ‘Jeopardy!’ champions of all time signifies a new era where computers will provide humans with the information we need. Our team is grateful to be part of this unique event and appreciative of ‘Jeopardy!’ to try something never done before.”   

About “Jeopardy!” The IBM Challenge
“Jeopardy!” The IBM Challenge pits Watson, an IBM computer, against the quiz show’s two best champions ever – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  Jennings holds the show’s record for winning the most consecutive games and Rutter is known for earning the most money in “Jeopardy!” history.


[Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 8:40am]


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