Tonight: Watson, the Jeopardy-Playing Computer, Faces Its Human Foes

By Andrew Moseman | February 14, 2011 1:32 pm

NOTE: Before tonight’s big match begins, check out our feature, “Who’s Smarter, a Human or a Computer? Round 9: Jeopardy,” on the other human games that AI programmers have tried to perfect—and the ones where humans maintain the advantage.

I can already hear the Jeopardy theme music (which isn’t my ringtone, I swear!). Tonight, one of the highest-profile man versus machine contests in years begins, as Jeopardy will air the matches pitting former flesh-and-blood champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter against Watson, the question-and-answer supercomputer by IBM.

Since traveling to IBM’s research center for the practice/demonstration match (which Watson led when play stopped after 15 clues), we here at DISCOVER have been simultaneously excited for the match and anxious about the prospects for our species’ chosen representatives to come out on top. Jennings apparently feels the same way:

“It’s a new experience for me to feel like an underdog, playing against this unstoppable supercomputer,” he says. “At IBM’s research lab, the center of the stage had a big Watson logo, like you’re playing a basketball team on its own court. I knew this was gonna be an away game for humanity.” [Los Angeles Times]

The emotionless Watson is prepared, too. IBM’s David Ferrucci and his team spent four years building Watson to understand the puns and riddles of the English language as used on Jeopardy—and pumping its databases full of more information than a human could hope to remember.

They scanned a universe of knowledge into its capacious 15 trillion-byte memory: great literature, mathematical and scientific formulas, the name of every pope and Best Actress Oscar winner. To call this compendium of information encyclopedic would do it a disservice. It’s practically Wikipedic – but without the looming threat of inaccuracy. [Washington Post]

Hopefully, for humanity’s pride, Watson is slow on the buzzer. But based on what we’ve seen so far, don’t count on it.

Related Content:
80beats: Jeopardy-Playing Computer Tromps Human Players in Practice Round
80beats: Your Clue Is: “This Robot Will Attempt to Crush Humans in ‘Jeopardy!’”
80beats: Watson, an IBM Supercomputer, Could Be the Next “Jeopardy!” Champion
Discoblog: First Chess, Now Poker? Computer Programmers Try To Crush Human Competitors
DISCOVER: Deeper Blue?

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