IBM's Watson Puts Human Rivals In Jeopardy

Big Blue's supercomputer wins both Daily Doubles, but thinks Toronto is a U.S. city.
Inside Watson, IBM's Jeopardy Computer
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Slideshow: Inside Watson, IBM's Jeopardy Computer

IBM's Watson supercomputer won the first round of a two-match Jeopardy standoff after crushing his carbon-based competitors Tuesday.

Watson ended the first match, which aired over two nights, with $35,734 in winnings. All-time Jeopardy champ Brad Rutter was second, with $10,400 while Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the game show's longest winning streak, was third with $4,800.

In racking up its total, Watson answered 24 of 30 questions correctly and won both Daily Doubles. But the computer also showed that even the most advanced artificial intelligence program can be strikingly fallible at times. It drew guffaws from the audience when it answered "Toronto" to a question that asked which city was home to airports named after a World War II hero and a famous WWII battle.

Watson, in his placid mechanical voice, named the Canadian city despite the fact the question was under the category "U.S. Cities."

On its Smarter Planet blog, IBM said Watson's training may have led to the error. "Watson, in his training phase, learned that categories only weakly suggest the kind of answer that is expected, and therefore the machine downgrades their significance," IBM said.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is much more than a 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.

The contest resumes Wednesday.

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