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Jeopardy's Newest Contestant

David McAlpine |
February 14, 2011 | 10:33 p.m. PST

Executive Producer

(Photo via Creative Commons)
(Photo via Creative Commons)

Answer: It's the IBM super computer built to beat two of Jeopardy's ultimate champions in a three day showdown.

The real answer: Who is Watson?

"Watson" is the name for IBM's latest project, a giant computer the size of a small warehouse that's designed to play the quiz show Jeopardy! The computer is programmed with millions of bits of information and uses linking algorithms to determine the correct answer. Similar to contestants, the computer must trigger a response to push a button and buzz in.

You might recognize the idea from 1997 when IBM's Deep Blue went up against Grand Master chess player Gary Kasparov in a six game head-to-head showdown. The computer won 2-1 with three draws.

This time, the level of competition is no different. Watson will face off against two of Jeopary's most successful players in the quiz show's 46 year history: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Jennings is best known for winning 74 consecutive games in 2004, more than any other contestant, winning over $2 million. Rutter has won three of the show's "Tournament of Champions" special series, earning him over $3 million.

Watson, who made his television debut Monday, had arguably more missteps than its counterpart, Deep Blue. At one point in the show, the computer mistakenly answered "What is The 1920s?" after Jennings had given that same incorrect answer.

After Monday's show, which only consisted of the first Jeopardy! round, Watson and Rutter are tied in first place with $5,000. Jennings is in third with $2,000. IBM executives said Watson's success showed the possibilities of artificial intelligence in super computers.

"I'm really focused on the many real-life situations for this ability to be able to dive into unstructured data and make sense of it," IBM General Manager of Global Media and the Entertainment Industry Steve Canepa said. "The kind of search we do on a search engine today is much more keyowrd oriented and this is way beyond that ... If we can search with intelligence, it could open up all sorts of new fields and possibilites.



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