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2/15/2011
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IBM's Watson In Jeopardy Deadlock

Big Blue supercomputer in dead heat with TV game show's all-time champion after preliminary round.

Inside Watson, IBM's Jeopardy Computer
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Slideshow: Inside Watson, IBM's Jeopardy Computer

Man and machine were tied after round one of a Jeopardy face off that is pitting IBM's Watson supercomputer against past champions from the popular TV game show.

Watson was tied with all-time Jeopardy champ Brad Rutter after the first round, which aired Monday. Watson and Rutter both tallied $5,000 in winnings, while Ken Jennings, whose streak of 74 consecutive wins is a Jeopardy record, was in third with $2,000.

The contest is the culmination of seven years of IBM research into artificial intelligence, and is providing insight into the potential, and limits, of the current state-of-the-art in A.I.

Watson got off to an early lead and was at one point $3,800 ahead of his human competitors after breezing through questions like, "4-letter word for the iron fitting on the hoof of a horse or a card-dealing box in a casino?" Watson, in a soft, synthesized voice, correctly replied, "What is a shoe?"

But, proving that he is no HAL (the omnipotent supercomputer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose name consists of the three letters falling directly before I, B, and M in the alphabet), Watson flubbed several times, at one point repeating another contestant's answer that had already been deemed incorrect by legendary quizmaster Alex Trebek.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is much more than a fun science experiment. Much of the program is built on technology that IBM has already commercialized for applications such as economic modeling, weather forecasting, the prediction of disease vectors, and the tracking of trends in financial markets.

"Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson's breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives," said David Ferrucci, who leads IBM's Watson team.

Watson simultaneously runs natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation and reasoning algorithms to fathom the intent of questions and yield what it thinks is the best answer—all in a matter of seconds or less. The Watson program runs on IBM's new massively parallel POWER7 processors, which the company rolled out last year.

Watson is competing against Rutter and Jennings for a grand prize of $1 million. The two human contestants have pledged to give 50% of their winnings to charity if they prevail, while IBM will donate 100% to charity if Watson wins.

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