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Man vs. Machine: Jeopardy Style

Sammi Wong |
February 17, 2011 | 3:40 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Jeopardy taping studio. (Photo by Justin Levy, Creative Commons)
Jeopardy taping studio. (Photo by Justin Levy, Creative Commons)
In the latest segment of Jeopardy, the ever decreasing line between computers and humans has lessened to a whole new level.

In the three-day series titled “Man vs Machine” the International Business Machine (IBM) supercomputer, Watson, blew the legendary Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter out of the water. Ending the third day with $77,147 and having only once lost the lead to his two opponents, Watson seems undefeatable.

If 74-time champion Ken Jennings and 20-time champion Brad Rutter can’t beat Watson, no one is likely to be able to.

Watson, named after founder of IBM Thomas Watson, is a program that stands alone from the internet which extracts information out of the 4 terabytes of data including plays, encyclopedias, and even pop culture shows to provide an answer to any question posed to it.

However, just like a human being, Watson was not without its hesitancy and mistakes. When Watson missed the final Jeopardy question on the second day, the audience gasped and expressed genuine disbelief. The clue, which was “this city's largest airport is named for a World War II hero, and its 2nd largest is named for a World War II battle,” made Watson the only contestant ever in the history of the show to miss a question in the U.S Cities category.

While both of the previous Champions answered with the city “Chicago,” Watson uncertainly replied with “Toronto.” The mistake, however, had little effect on the overall stage of the game since Watson only wagered $947 for a clue.

Those that worked on Watson said that this supercomputer has the ability to “revolutionize entire industries with this new capability.” Using Jeopardy to gauge the computer’s ability to understand natural language, Watson exceeded expectations when he buzzed in on over 80 percent of the questions first. Watson, which won a million dollars, divided the winnings and donated it charity. 

After three days of demonstration, it seems that Watson has replicated more human traits than any other computer has ever before. It made mistakes, achieved excellence, and played the betting game with as much strategy as the best man could. 

The team of experts that created Watson said that its main purpose is to “help make us smarter individually and therefore make a smarter planet.”


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