Feb 14, 2011

Precisely, Watson

Watson UPDATE: Not surprisingly, (SPOILER ALERT) Watson the computer bullied his live competitors and beat them easily, but as one researcher says, this is a victory for humans. The result was utterly fascinating television. They played two rounds but spread it over three episodes so they could devote adequate time to explaining the technology.  They also made a strong point that this was not just some fun stunt. There are real-world applications of the type of "thinking" Watson was designed to do.

At some points, it was a true competition. There were stretches where Watson ruled with a silicon fist, but there were stretches where he couldn't beat the guys to the buzzer.  He also gave a number of wrong answers, particularly in the first Final Jeopardy question.  And Watson’s betting strategy on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy seemed to have come from the Random Number Generator portion of his circuitry, but of course, it didn’t.  In all, this was fascinating to watch, and apparently lots of people watched. Hopefully, they will repeat the episodes soon, or make them available on the Internet.  We may have witnessed the beginning of the rise of the machines, or the first step towards the Ship's Computer.  At the very least, IBM is cool again, at least for now.


From Science Fiction to Science Fact

You've probably heard the story of Deep Blue, the Chess playing IBM computer that in 1997 won a 6 game match against Chess Master Garry Kasparov. People recognized this was cool, but not completely surprising as Chess is really a numbers game with a limited number of moves and some predictable strategies, perfectly suited to an overblown calculator.

Watson and Trebek Starting today, you'll be able to see the next big test for artificial intelligence as IBM's latest computer tries it's LAN at a game show. The two smartest Jeopardy players in history, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, will compete in a three-day match against IBM's Watson. This is a bigger challenge than it might seem. Jeopardy clues tend to use puns, double entendres, and pop culture references. Watson has to be programmed to sort through these things to get to the question being asked, form a list of possible answers, then decide if it has a confidence level high enough to warrant ringing in. Most importantly, it must remember to answer in the form of a question, all while beating out two human players who play as if they were computers.This should be fun. It starts on Monday, 4/14, and continues for 3 days. If you can't get home early or set your DVR from work (thanks, DirecTV!), be sure to record the last two episodes. You may witness the beginning of the Rise of the Machines. Will Alex Trebek be the first to go?  I’d be happy if the thing just sounded like Sean Connery.

Jeopardy, Syndicated, Check local listings.

More to Come.

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