IBM Watson in Jeopardy! day one: could do better

Yes, IBM is in Jeopardy! No, not like that. Its Watson supercomputer has been playing two ex-champion human opponents in the famous answer-asking gameshow. In Round One, Watson tied for first place.

By Richi Jennings. February 15, 2011.

The first day of IBM's supercomputer game of Jeopardy! is over. Watson did reasonably well, but its game was by no means perfect. Stay tuned for two more days. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers ask, "What is Watson?"

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention the shortest route between two Wikipedia articles...


Dean Takahashi reports:

Human competitor Brad Ruttner tied with Watson, a supercomputer created by IBM. Another human rival, Ken Jennings, isn’t far behind. ... The match showed that IBM’s artificial intelligence technology is a force to be reckoned with, and in the future, it’s only going to get better. ... Some 25 IBM Research scientists across the world toiled for four years on Watson, which is IBM’s spiritual successor to Deep Blue, the supercomputer that defeated chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997.


At the start of the second half, Watson had $5,200, Rutter had $1,000, and Jennings only had $200. Then, the humans made their comeback, beating Watson to the buzzer a few times. And Watson got some answers wrong in the second half.

Timothy Prickett-Morgan adds:

Jennings, who once had a 74-game Jeopardy winning streak, is known for being at one with the buzzer, but Watson cleaned his clock before the first commercial break. ... As Watson made a few more incorrect guesses, Brad Rutter – who has won more dough than anyone else playing Jeopardy – came alive and started racking up money.

Elizabeth A. Harris speaks of Watson's mistakes:

“Stylish elegance, or students who all graduated in the same year,” the question read. “What is chic?” Watson replied.


“What is class?” Mr. Rutter said.


At the end of Monday’s round, Mr. Rutter and Watson were tied at $5,000 each. Mr. Jennings ... slunk off into the Wheel of Fortune time slot with only $2,000. The winner of this three-day competition will be awarded $1 million.

  Gordon Haff comments on the state of AI:

Understanding speech has turned out to be really difficult. ... Indeed, when IBM Watson takes on past "Jeopardy" champions in a contest televised beginning tonight, the questions will be fed to it as text, rather than speech. But answering the often convoluted questions used on "Jeopardy" is hard enough even without processing the spoken word.


Watson is in no real sense thinking and the use of the term "understanding" in the context of Watson should be taken as anthropomorphism rather than a literal description. ... Watson is part of IBM's DeepQA project. The QA stands for question answering. ... In association with Carnegie Mellon University, IBM created the Open Advancement of Question Answering (OAQA) initiative. ... Among other things, this initiative is intended to enable adapting Watson's software to new data domains and problem types.

Michael Cooney calls it "The ultimate in man v. machine moments":

If the preliminary test rounds are any indication, the IBM natural language supercomputer known as Watson will give ... Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter a serious run for their money this week. ... Watson's software runs on IBM POWER7 servers optimized to handle the massive number of tasks it must perform at rapid speeds to analyze complex language and deliver correct responses to Jeopardy! clues. ... 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.

And Finally...

Find the shortest route between two Wikipedia articles

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Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher
  Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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