Man VS Machine

  • February 10, 2011
  • Tech
  • Comments Off on Man VS Machine

Man VS Machine

Everyone say hello to the latest contestant on Jeopardy, Watson. Like any other Jeopardy contestant, Watson is extremely smart, and has access to a wealth of knowledge on a variety of topics. Unlike the rest of the contestants, Watson was built over the span of four years by 25 IBM programmers.

That’s right, Watson is the first computerized contestant ever to step up to a Jeopardy podium. On February 14 – 16, Watson will be competing with two of Jeopardy’s all time best players Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter. Jennings spent a record-setting 74 consecutive days on the show, while Rutter walked away with $3.2 million in winnings. In other words, Watson has some pretty stiff competition.

Intelligent opponents aren’t the only hurdle Watson will have to overcome to achieve victory. The kind of questions that really get a rise out of Jeopardy contestants and audience members alike are riddled with puns and allusions. According to David Ferrucci, program manager of the Watson project, these types of questions are easy for humans to deal with, because we think in words to begin with. Watson on the other hand, “thinks” in ones and zeros like any other computer, which makes reading between the lines a little more challenging.

When posed a question, Watson parses a vast database of information on just about any topic imaginable, and uses several thousand algorithms to narrow hundreds of candidate answers down to one correct answer – or should we say question.

How many cores does the processor in your computer have? Two? Four? Watson is driven by 3,000 cores that allow it to pick an answer to any question in a matter of seconds rather than the hours it would take a normal computer.

So, will Watson be able to win despite the skill of his competitors? If a sparring match held on January 13th is any indication, the outlook is good for Watson. It came in first, scoring $4,400 with Jennings coming in second with $3,400, and Rutter coming in third with just $1,200. We’ll have to wait until the Man VS Machine episode airs later this month to find out for sure.

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