Computer creams human 'Jeopardy!' champs

February 17, 2011 by Mira Oberman

An IBM computer creamed two human champions on the popular US television game show "Jeopardy!" Wednesday in a triumph of artificial intelligence.

"I for one welcome our new computer overlords," contestant Ken Jennings -- who holds the "Jeopardy!" record of 74 straight wins -- cheekily wrote on his answer screen at the conclusion of the much-hyped three-day showdown.

"Watson" -- named after Thomas Watson, the founder of the US technology giant -- made some funny flubs in the game, but prevailed by beating his human opponents to the buzzer again and again.

The final tally from the two games: Watson at $77,147, Jennings at $24,000 and $21,600 for reigning champion Brad Rutter, who previously won a record $3.25 million on the quiz show.

"Watson is fast, knows a lot of stuff and can really dominate a match," host Alex Trebek said at the opening of Wednesday's match.

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

"Jeopardy!", which first aired on US television in 1964, tests a player's knowledge 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 clues and need to supply the questions.

The complex language of the brain-teasers meant Watson didn't merely need to have access to a vast database of information, it also had to understand what the clue meant.

One impressive display came when Watson answered "What is United Airlines" to the clue "Nearly 10 million YouTubers saw Dave Carrol's clip called this 'friendly skies' airline 'breaks guitars.'"

But a Final Jeopardy flub on Tuesday's show prompted one IBM engineer to wear a Toronto Blue Jays jacket to the final day of taping and Trebek to joke that he had learned the Canadian metropolis was a US city.

Watson had answered "What is Toronto????" to the question: "Its largest airport is named for a WWII hero. Its second largest, for a WWII battle" under the category "US Cities."

Jennings and Rutter both gave Chicago as the correct answer.

Watson's success was a remarkable achievement and a historic moment for artificial intelligence, said Oren Etzioni, a computer science professor at the University of Washington.

"! is a particularly difficult form of natural language because it's so open-ended and it's so full of puns and quirky questions," he told AFP.

But while Watson was impressive, he's still light years away from the kind of interactive, thinking computers imagined by science fiction, like the murderous Hal in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"The day where robots will keep us as pets is still very far away," Etzioni said.

That's because Watson can't really think for itself or even fully understand the questions, and instead "employs a lot of tricks and special cases to do what it's doing," he said.

The next step is to see how this technology can be used in applications with real economic and social impacts.

Watson, which has been under development at IBM Research labs in New York since 2006, is the latest machine developed by IBM to challenge mankind.

In 1997, an IBM computer named "Deep Blue" defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a closely-watched, six-game match.

Like Deep Blue, Watson "represents a major leap in the capacity of information technology systems to identify patterns, gain critical insight and enhance decision making," IBM chairman Sam Palmisano said in a promotional video.

"We expect the science underlying Watson to elevate computer intelligence, take human to computer communication to new levels and to help extend the power of advanced analysts to make sense of vast quantities of structured and unstructured data."

IBM already has plans to apply the technology to help doctors track patients and stay up to date on rapidly evolving medical research.

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4.5 / 5 (11) Feb 17, 2011
I for one, also welcome our new computer overlords! :D
1.2 / 5 (19) Feb 17, 2011
How is it AI? Assuming it has voice recognition, all it is is a program with a couple of subroutines. A voice recognition subroutine. A sentence subroutine to breakdown the question into a couple datum, not too smart since it already knows that it will only get questions so it doesn't have to differentiate between a question and any other form of sentence. Then a subroutine to search its database for the datum. Finally a subroutine to add "What is' or 'Who is' in front of the answer. This thing is just a program that hears, talks and searches a giant database. My Corvette does all that, do you hear anyone calling them AI?

It couldn't correlate between two unrelated data as illustrated by it being stumped by the "Who was the famous Airport named after?" question where it had to relate an airport to the pilot's name O'Hare, something the human mind had no problem doing. Something that AI would have had no problem doing.
5 / 5 (8) Feb 17, 2011
Does it imitate human intelligence? A bit too much if you ask me.

Now that Watson won Jeopardy, they could have better purposes for him where he could be more useful than in a game show. As some IBM, healthcare come into my mind. Watson replies are either good or VERY far off. A human could take a guess and then ask Watson for HIS idea. If both are the same, we have a better chance of being right. As long as it's done properly, it has a good added value.

Watson is definitely AI. It's not strong AI, but it's AI.
5 / 5 (12) Feb 17, 2011
Wow, so you guys still don't understand why this is impressive? I want you to go to your computer now and type in a question and have it not return just a list of web page links that possibly contain what you're looking for, but actually give you a direct answer! Can't do it? Why not? It is apparently not an impressive feat, so it should be able to...right?

OK, the point is this computer is doing something incredibly complex that has not been achieved before. You can add all the processing power to it you want, but it needs those algorithms to actually do the work. Props to the IBM guys who made it happen. The application for medicine is perfect and I look forward to the value it will bring.
1 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2011
Impressive as a computer intelligence advancement? Yes
Impressive as compared to the human brain? Hardly

Jennings & Rutter probably also knew the correct questions for the majority of the clues given by Alex Trebeck. Assuming they did, what was Watson's advantage?
1 / 5 (8) Feb 17, 2011
Although Watson's erudition is impressive, I believe the game was very biased towards him. It appears that the first one to press the button AFTER the question is read gets to give the answer. Clearly the humans knew almost all the answers before the questions was read and were vainly attempting to beat Watson to the buzzer; but they couldn't.
Totally unfair, more of a (unneeded) proof that machines can perform mechanical operations faster than humans.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2011
Vorbeste romana Watson? Are access la conturi de banca? Are sentimente? Trebuie sa plateasca facturi? Pai daca le printeaza sa le si plateasca.
E o tehnologie care trebuie sa genereze bani pentru IBM nimic mai mult.

Este un progres în procesarea limbajului natural. Abia nimic.
Curtsy Google Translate ;)
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2011
A big plus is that the algorithms can be constantly improved, errors are clearly visible, you can import large data bases - a lot of advantages. I'm impressed.
1 / 5 (9) Feb 17, 2011
Like I said, my car does that. I talk, it answers. Watson seems to impress a lot of people who are easily impressed. I'm not. What can Watson do that is different? It is only different in scale, not capability. Comparing this to true AI is like comparing an abacus to my PC. Can it pass the Turing test?
1 / 5 (7) Feb 18, 2011
Google, Bing, and Yahoo should be shaking in their skivvies. This thing is ideal for a search engine interface.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2011
Like I said, my car does that. I talk, it answers. Watson seems to impress a lot of people who are easily impressed. I'm not.

Then you haven't understood anything about Watson.

First of all you don't talk to it. It has no audio input. Watson gets text only. This is why he once repeated a false answer give by another contestant: he couldn't 'hear' the other guy say it.

Secondly Watson parses not only for keywords but also for sentence structure, category, and knowledge about how questions are phrased from previous Jeopardy games (and about 1000 other algorithms) - all in very little time against huge databses. That is pretty impressive if you have even a minute clue about computer programming. (You probably think CGI is 'impressive'. But that, on the other hand, is really just very basic math)

Wolfram alpha tried something similar (though a lot simpler) for a search engine.
not rated yet Feb 18, 2011
Yeah I bet those world class engineers at IBM spent the four years playing videogames and just released some preexisting technology to troll us all.

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