Tuesday, February 15, 2011


IBM’s Watson was tied for the lead after the first day of “Computer-vs-Human” challenge on this week’s Jeopardy, including long-time champ Ken Jennings (who has won 74 in a row).

One of the questions Watson answered correctly:

Clue: "Iron fitting on the hoof of a horse or a card-dealing box in a casino."
Watson: "What is shoe?"

But in other areas, Watson struggled:

Clue: "From the Latin for end, this is where trains can also originate."
Watson: "What is finis." Confidence level: 97%.
Trebek: "No. Ken?"
"What is terminus," Jennings answered correctly.

It will be interesting to see what the cultural impact of a Watson victory will be, especially in comparison to IBM's Deep Blue vs. Kasparov in 1997.

Watson is not connected to the Internet, and although Alex Trebek (and others) repeat that fact, it appeared that Watson did best when the answers were those that would be found by a search engine:

The questions that it did best at are ones that if you entered into Google or Bing, you can get the same answers. For instance, if you input one of the questions asked in the Jeopardy! tournament into Google, "Bang, bang, his silver hammer came down upon her head" one of the first results is "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" which Watson correctly answered. You get the same results with Bing. It's as if Watson is using the same sort of search algorithms, except not culled from the Internet, but a manually compiled, ginormous database of song lyrics, history, literature and other concrete, indisputable bits of information.

Computer-vs-human Jeopardy continues tonight (2/15/2011) and Wednesday (2/16/2011).

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