IBM's 'Watson' to take on Jeopardy! champs

Feb 11, 2011 by Chris Lefkow
"Jeopardy!" contestants, a TV executive and an IBM senior researcher discuss the upcoming Man Vs Machine competition in Yorktown Heights, New York. Watson, a supercomputer named for IBM founder Thomas Watson, is to take on two human champions of the long-running Jeopardy! television quiz show in two games over three days next week.

Nearly 15 years after an IBM machine defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov, the US computer pioneer is rolling out another device to challenge mankind.

Watson, a supercomputer named for IBM founder Thomas Watson, is to take on two human champions of the long-running Jeopardy! television quiz show in two games over three days next week. The three "Jeopardy!" episodes featuring Watson will air Feb. 14 through Feb. 16.

Like Kasparov, who lost a six-game match to IBM's "Deep Blue" in 1997, Ken Jennings, who holds the Jeopardy! record of 74 straight wins, and Brad Rutter, winner of $3.25 million on the show, are expected to have their hands full.

In a practice match at IBM Research headquarters in upstate New York last month, Watson came out on top in terms of prize money, although the computer and the two human contestants correctly answered all of the 15 questions.

Jeopardy!, which first aired on US television in 1964, tests a player's knowledge of trivia in a range of categories, from geography to politics to history to sports and entertainment.

In a twist on traditional game play, contestants are provided with answers and need to supply the questions.

During the practice match, for example, one of the clues was: "The film Gigi gave him his signature song 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls.'"

Watson, represented by a large computer monitor, sounded the buzzer a split second ahead of Jennings and Rutter and answered correctly in its artificial voice "Who is Maurice Chevalier?"

A dollar amount is attached to each question and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Players have money deducted for wrong answers.

An IBM Power7 computer, a work-load optimized system that can answer questions posed in natural language over a nearly unlimited range of knowledge. Watson, which is not connected to the Internet, plays the game by crunching through multiple algorithms at dizzying speed and attaching a percentage score to what it believes is the correct response.

Watson, which is not connected to the Internet, plays the game by crunching through multiple algorithms at dizzying speed and attaching a percentage score to what it believes is the correct response.

For the Maurice Chevalier question, for example, Watson was 98 percent certain that the name of the French crooner was the right answer.

Developing a that can compete with the best human Jeopardy! players involves challenges more complex than those faced by the scientists behind the chess-playing "Deep Blue."

"The thing about chess is that it's fairly straightforward to represent the game in a computer," said Eric Brown, a member of the IBM Research team that has been working on Watson since 2006.

"With chess, it's almost mathematical," Brown told AFP. "You can consider all the possibilities. It's almost a closed set of options."

Jeopardy!, on the other hand, involves the use of natural language, raising a whole host of problems for a computer.

"Questions are expressed in language and with an ability to be asked in an infinite numbers of ways," Brown said, including the use of irony, ambiguity, riddles and puns -- not a computer's strong suit.

"The initial approach that people might want to take is to just build a giant database," Brown said. "That approach is just not suitable."

Playing Jeopardy! is also not like searching the Web.

"While they're somewhat related, Google and Watson are solving two different problems," Brown said.

"With Web search, you express your information with a few keywords and then a search engine will bring back 10 or half-a-million Web pages that match what you're looking for.

"But if you're looking for precise information (like with Jeopardy!) you'll have the task of wading through those documents to find the answer that you're looking for," he said.

Watson uses what IBM calls Question Answering technology to tackle ! clues, gathering evidence, analysing it and then scoring and ranking the most likely answer.

The winner of the man vs. machine showdown which begins on Monday is to receive $1 million. Second place is worth $300,000 and the third place finisher pockets $200,000.

IBM plans to donate 100 percent of its winnings to charity. Jennings and Rutter plan to give 50 percent of their prize money to charity.

Explore further: Magic Leap moves beyond older lines of VR

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Jeopardy!' to pit humans against IBM machine

Dec 14, 2010

(AP) -- The game show "Jeopardy!" will pit man versus machine this winter in a competition that will show how successful scientists are in creating a computer that can mimic human intelligence.

IBM computer taking on 'Jeopardy!' champs for $1M

Jan 13, 2011

It's the size of 10 refrigerators, and it swallows encyclopedias whole, but an IBM computer was lacking one thing it needed to battle the greatest champions from the "Jeopardy!" quiz show.

Computer could make 2 'Jeopardy!' champs deep blue

Jan 13, 2011

(AP) -- The clue: It's the size of 10 refrigerators, has access to the equivalent of 200 million pages of information and knows how to answer in the form of a question. The correct response: "What is the ...

IBM puts supercomputer in 'Jeopardy!'

Feb 08, 2011

"Let’s finish, ‘Chicks Dig Me’," intones the somewhat monotone, but not unpleasant, voice of Watson, IBM’s new supercomputer built to compete on the game show Jeopardy!

Recommended for you

Magic Leap moves beyond older lines of VR

Oct 24, 2014

Two messages from Magic Leap: Most of us know that a world with dragons and unicorns, elves and fairies is just a better world. The other message: Technology can be mindboggingly awesome. When the two ...

Oculus Rift users to see Moon live through robot

Oct 23, 2014

A group from Carnegie Mellon wants to send a robot to the Moon to beam live pictures of the Moon to Oculus Rift headset users, reported technology reporter Jane Wakefield of the BBC. Andy the robot is intended ...

Skin icons can tap into promise of smartwatch

Oct 21, 2014

You have heard it before: smartwatches are cool wearables but critics remind us of the fact that their small size makes many actions cumbersome and they question how many people will really have them on their ...

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

thales
5 / 5 (3) Feb 11, 2011
It's going to be a very special Valentine's Day. I hope my wife is as excited about this as I am!
DaveGee
5 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2011
My advice... Order a dozen roses... Just in case.
ibuyufo
not rated yet Feb 11, 2011
One dozen roses to Watson. By the way Watson, if you take over the world in say 20 to 30 years remember I was nice to you and gave you roses!
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (3) Feb 11, 2011
I really hope that during the commercials or something they explain the difficulty in having the computer do this. I feel that too many people will not appreciate the progress made in computing, even if Watson loses.
soulman
5 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2011
I really hope that during the commercials or something they explain the difficulty in having the computer do this. I feel that too many people will not appreciate the progress made in computing, even if Watson loses.

I agree, but I'm afraid if people don't already have a sense of the degree of difficulty of this task, a layman's explanation will achieve little - they'll just shrug.

But anyhoo...go IBM!
Beard
not rated yet Feb 12, 2011
How great of a stride is this towards a passed Turing test?
nanotech_republika_pl
not rated yet Feb 12, 2011
@ibuyufo
We have to beat you up now for your future defecting to the computer overlords. Traitor!