Watch the Watson Computer Kick Jeopardy’s Ass (video)

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Watson vs Jeopardy

(L to R): Ken Jennings, Watson, and Brad Rutter. Careful humans, your dominance is in jeopardy.

Today is the day computers took shows. In a brief exhibition match in upstate New York, IBM's pure language processing computer, Watson, faced the titans of Jeopardy: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson won. Sure, it was a brief sparring session, and the real trials won't air until February, but it looks like Watson has a good shot at becoming the world's champion of trivia. Alex Trebek didn't preside over this preliminary match, but he was on hand to watch Watson go toe to toe with some of the top human competitors from the history of Jeopardy. He joked that the computer would soon be on sale on eBay. Not quite, Trebek, but IBM engineers do think that Moore's law will allow everyone to have their own Watson years from now. Considering how well the computer performed against Jennings and Rutter I'm sure the two of them will be among the first in line. Watch Watson's stellar performance in the video below. I'll take The "AIs" Have It for $2000, Alex.

After a brief opening session, the scores were Jennings $3400, Watson $4400, and Rutter $1200:

As mentioned in our previous discussion, Watson draws its information from a personal database, not the internet. It can answer most Jeopardy questions in about three seconds. To do so, Watson uses massive amounts of parallel computing power. Inside the large machine are racks of servers, over 2000 cores, with 15 terabytes of RAM, and about 80 teraflops of processing power. Yet all of this hardware is more or less "off the shelf". What makes Watson really unique is the way it processes language. IBM developed the DeepQA project (of which Watson is a part) to be able to provide human-like answers to human-asked questions. That means it has to understand the ambiguities and intricacies of human speech - a medium of communication notorious for its acceptable mistakes and imprecision. Using its vast database of literature, scientific reports, and other documents, Watson develops ideas of how often words are associated with other words, and what meanings are extracted from those connections. Add in a few rules about how to best play Jeopardy, and you are most of the way towards building a computer that can defeat humans at their own game.

Here's IBM engineer David Gondek, speaking with engadget's Paul Miller, at the event to explain more:

As you saw in the first video above, there are areas in which Watson does better than others. Or rather, there are areas where humans still outperform Watson. First, it only speaks English (though it appears to have knowledge of words that have been anglicized). The computer may also be more conservative than its competitors in choosing to buzz in early, and perhaps more shy in deciding when it has the right answer. Word play and association categories, such as filling in the blanks in book titles, were still clearly won by Ken Jennings. Probably because humans are pretty good at not fixating on the things they don't know.

Yet even if Watson is only a great Jeopardy player, and not a perfect one, that hardly matters in the greater plans for its use. IBM executives claim it could read all of the world's medical files in a few seconds. Watson could likely handle similar stores of data with the same speed. Think of what it would mean to have a computer with such a complete knowledge in a field. Expert doesn't even come close to describing it. In ten or twenty years, when there's a Watson in every smart phone (and home), we will all have access to medical, engineering, or legal opinions that in scope (if not quality) exceed anything a human could hope to produce. Applications in intelligence, military applications, and general security are equally profound. If you can provide the database, a computer like Watson can provide the unparalleled expertise. It's an amazing future.

In the next few days, Watson will take on many other former Jeopardy champions, playing in several rounds of competitions. The event will be aired in a special program in February. Win or lose in that eventual showdown, today's scrimmage showed us that Watson has the right stuff. Good luck to all the human're going to need it.

Watson vs Jeopardy forthcoming

The real test is still yet to come. Are you ready, Trebek?

[image credit: EnGadget, CrunchGear]

[source: CrunchGear, EnGadget]

Discussion — 14 Responses

  • Tim Tyler January 13, 2011 on 11:13 pm

    Watson may be crowdsourced! They need to exhibit the machine in a large Faraday cage – or nobody will know if they are cheating or not.

  • Jeremy January 14, 2011 on 3:58 am

    So when is IBM going to get in touch with Wolfram Alpha?

  • Paulrattner January 14, 2011 on 8:25 am

    Uh…is Watson actually listening to the question being read aloud, or is it fed the question in text?

    • Why06 Paulrattner January 14, 2011 on 1:39 pm

      He’s fed the question in the computer at the same time it appears on screen, since it can’t discern speech or read the board.

  • Iseo Ranker11 January 14, 2011 on 10:49 am

    Really fantastic Video and most powerful computer and good presentation.
    Thank you for post

  • Spritualskeptic January 14, 2011 on 3:11 pm

    He seems friendly enough, no?

  • Tom January 14, 2011 on 6:22 pm

    Wow that was an amazing video! I can’t believe more people did not gasp in the audience when the machine answered one question after another with such speed and precision.
    For me, this video represents a glimpse into the near future, where machines will be as smart as us. It kind of felt as if a smaller and easier version of the touring test was passed by this machine right there. It’s so true that slowly we are eliminating items from the once long list of things that only a person can do. That list has gotten very short and was yet reduced by another item today with this presentation.

    Thanks for clarifying whether Watson got the questions fed into it through a cable or actually read it from the screen with a camera.

    Like a previous poster, I also think that there is surely room for cheating, but then again, why would IBM do that? That would be really lame and stupid, if not to say harmful for the company. So that’s highly unlikely.

    • Insilico Info Tom January 17, 2011 on 2:27 pm

      I am waiting to Google’s reply on this amazing technology. I wonder how fast this will come into the real world. Maybe will be implemented with Google or
      someone cloud solution. This is perfect solution for clouds. But my dream would be that this is an open source software and hardware is distributed grid computing.

  • Paul Fernhout January 17, 2011 on 4:09 am

    The issue is broader than just robotics and other automation, as I mention here:

    In brief, a combination of robotics and other automation, better design, and voluntary social networks are decreasing the value of most paid human labor (by the law of supply and demand). At the same time, demand for stuff and services is limited for a variety of reasons — some classical, like a cyclical credit crunch or a concentration of wealth (aided by automation and intellectual monopolies) and some novel like people finally getting too much stuff as they move up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or a growing environmental consciousness. In order to move past this, our society needs to emphasize a gift economy (like Wikipedia or Debian GNU/Linux or blogging), a basic income (social security for all regardless of age), democratic resource-based planning (with taxes, subsidies, investments, and regulation), and stronger local economies that can produce more of their own stuff (with organic gardens, solar panels, green homes, and 3D printers). There are some bad “make work” alternatives too that are best avoided, like endless war, endless schooling, endless bureaucracy, endless sickness, and endless prisons.

    Simple attempts to prop things up, like requiring higher wages in the face of declining demand for human labor and more competition for jobs, will only accelerate the replacement process for jobs as higher wage requirements would just be more incentive to automate, redesign, and push more work to volunteer social networks. We are seeing the death spiral of current mainstream economics based primarily on a link between the right to consume and the need to have a job (even as there may remain some link for higher-than-typical consumption rates in some situations, even with a basic income, a gift economy, etc).

  • loliya January 18, 2011 on 9:51 am

    Watson want to get publicity of people. But IBM’s is supporting him to bring in the field.

  • rosette February 1, 2011 on 3:43 am

    Was Watson named for Thomas Watson, and Thomas Watson Jr. of IBM?

    • Butlerj45d rosette February 15, 2011 on 12:11 am

      I guess it’s got to do with “what is…”

  • Abe February 5, 2011 on 9:32 pm

    It is going to be quite an interesting 3 days of Jeopardy. My friends and I are facinated by the fact that a non-human…with no live thinking ability but programmed by the human mind to respond to verbal sounds…analyze those sounds and respond with its own sounds.

  • Anonymous February 19, 2011 on 9:38 pm

    Jct: “Doing this ends inflation of money?” is one question I’m the only person claims to have solved and I’d bet Watson cannot.