Watson takes on Jeopardy champs

Scientists are testing their new IBM supercomputer, Watson, against Jeopardy super-champs, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The three-day challenge has already begun and so far, it’s a close competition, with Rutter and the computer locked in a Jeopardy tie.

Computer scientists and artificial intelligence experts have been hard-pressed to bring functional artificial intelligence from the sci-fi screen to the real world. Now, IBM is putting their supercomputer Watson and its 3,000 servers to the test on Jeopardy.

Watson tackles Jeopardy

Eight universities worked together to create the Question Answering (QA) technology behind the Watson computing system, with the express goal of seeing Watson challenge a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence on the game show Jeopardy.

“Applying QA technology to the real-time Jeopardy problem is an important challenge for the field because it requires a system to respond more quickly and with a level of confidence that has not been possible to-date,” explained Professor Eric Nyberg, CMU. “Jeopardy requires forms of reasoning that are quite sophisticated, using metaphors, puns, and puzzles that go beyond basic understanding of the language. As a challenge problem, Jeopardy will stretch the state of the art.”

Watson’s team is finally putting their computing system to the test in a three-day Jeopardy challenge, airing through Wednesday, February 16. Watson is competing against the two most successful and celebrated Jeopardy contestants, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, for a grand prize of $1 million. The second place contender will receive $300,000 and third place $200,000, with Jennings and Rutter donating half of their winnings to charity and IBM donating all of its winnings to two beneficiaries, Federal Way-based World Vision, a Christian aid group; and the World Community Grid, a public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity.

The competition started yesterday, February 14, and after the first round, Watson is tied with Rutter at $5,000, with Jennings coming in third with $2,000. Watson came out of the gate strong, but did trip up a few times, going so far as to repeat an incorrect answer, since it can’t see or hear. (The questions are fed to Watson via keyboard.) Word is, there are more silly mistakes to be expected in the final two rounds.

“Occasionally the curtain will part, and you’ll see that what it’s doing under the hood is not as sophisticated as what the human brain can do,” Jennings said.

While the team would love a Jeopardy win for Watson, IBM has bigger aspirations.

“Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson’s breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives,” said David Ferrucci, who leads the IBM team.

Watson’s capabilities could be applied to healthcare, banking, online self-service help desks, telephone customer support, city-guides and more. For all its practical uses, SheKnows can’t help but hear the War Games AI machine Joshua asking, “Shall we play a game?”

Check local listings for airtimes for tonight and Wednesday’s episodes of Jeopardy, as well as re-airings of Monday’s first round.


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