Man vs. Machine vs. Jeopardy

February 18, 2011

Meet Watson.

He is a computer. He plays Jeopardy. And he is yet another example that we are officially living in the future.

This super-computer built by IBM recently appeared on the popular TV game show, competing against former Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings & Brad Rutter in true ‘Man vs. Machine’ fashion.

Now, like a lot of people, my first thought when hearing this was: “Well, it’s a computer; of course it’s going to kick ass”

But there are in fact 2 major points to consider:

  1. Watson is not connected to the internet while playing the game; all of his knowledge must be ‘learned’ beforehand
  2. The clues on Jeopardy are not that simple and straight-forward; its language is often structured as riddles, using puns, etc. which make it quite difficult for a computer to decipher

So taking this into account, it’s not only fascinating to watch Watson interpreting the clues and processing it against its own stored information at ultra-fast speeds to come up with the correct answer; but it’s equally interesting to see which types of problems the computer still struggles with that would be considered relatively mundane for any human.

Consequently, as impressive as it is it that a machine is able to analyze and respond using natural language, and ultimately defeat its human counterparts, it is also a reminder of how far away we are still from achieving parity with the advanced and complex technology that is the human brain.

Still very cool though.

Update: Ken Jennings has written an article describing his experience competing against Watson.

Learn more about Watson in this video from IBM:

Watch the first of 3 Jeopardy episodes featuring Watson in the videos below:
(the remaining episodes are also uploaded to this user’s YouTube account)

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