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A Times Editorial

No shame in losing to Watson

Any seasoned horse handicapper easily could have predicted the outcome of the race between Watson — with 15 terabytes of memory — and two human Jeopardy! champions. In the three-day confrontation, IBM's supercomputer, to no one's surprise, repeatedly hit the buzzer faster, besting Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter and winning a grand total of $77,147, plus a $1 million bonus.

The special edition of Jeopardy! was entertaining, educational and a little unnerving. For longtime fans, it could not have been easy watching two of the show's most successful competitors reduced to bookends as they stood on either side of Watson's avatar.

But any predictions of a HAL-like, 2001: A Space Odyssey takeover of human society are premature. In order to defeat Jennings and Rutter, IBM invested four years of research, a team of 25 scientists and an estimated $30 million.

Now that Watson has dispatched its foes, IBM plans to put the creation to more substantive work in medical science, the financial community and other endeavors requiring accessing vast amounts of data. The big winner in this contest was science.

As for Jennings and Rutter, there is no shame in coming up short against one of the world's foremost creators of computer technology. In the end, Watson didn't prove it was smarter than the human factor, only quicker.

No shame in losing to Watson 02/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 6:57pm]
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