IBM's "Watson" Supercomputer to Compete on Jeopardy!, Ready For Primetime - HotHardware
IBM's "Watson" Supercomputer to Compete on Jeopardy!, Ready For Primetime

IBM's "Watson" Supercomputer to Compete on Jeopardy!, Ready For Primetime

Wow, it's actually happening. If you'll recall, reports were flying last year that IBM's supercomputer, a guy by the name of Watson, would one day appear on one of the most famed game shows in the history of television: Jeopardy!. After two years of development and another year of tweaking, Watson is now starring in a Jeopardy! competition video on the world's most famous video viewing portal. What is YouTube?


IBM has pit their supercomputers against humans before. Deep Blue has been known to play chess against some of the world's greatest players, but playing a game with a finite number of moves and possibilities is entirely different than playing a trivia game with any number of questions from any number of categories. The stakes are much higher, and it's much harder for even a supercomputer to wrap its wires around. Have a laugh and press play...


In fact, IBM is running into two very harsh realities: one, Watson has a tendency to crash. And two, he sometimes goes on streaks of getting everything wrong. But since it's a supercomputer, it has no sense of embarrassment or anything similar, so he'll generally keep buzzing in even if his "confidence" level is low. For now, the robot has only appeared in a Jeopardy! promotional video, but his time in the spotlight is coming very soon.


IBM's Watson Supercomputer - credit:  New York Times

Reports suggest that he may be ready to battle the world's most brilliant minds as early as this Fall, and we're guessing his appearance will be one of the most highly watched in the show's long history.


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That is beautiful. And astounding. I'm glad that IBM showed Watson also getting questions wrong, it means they aren't afraid to admit that there is still much work to be done in fine tuning their super computer. Most of the time you'll see things like this one sided, where it only shows the good or the bad.

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I've met one of the chess players who helped with Deep Blue. And while that was a major advancement for computing, there's other intricacies involved in this scenario (like interaction) that it's astounding what they are able to accomplish.

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As I understand it, Watson receives the question electronically and does not have to read or listen to the questions. That's might sound simple, but it puts the humans at a disadvantage.

Jeopardy questions tend to lean towards monarchs, presidents, geography, and other specific subjects. A computer preloaded with knowledge in those areas may blow away the competition, but will perform damned poorly when challenged with truly random questions - specifically ones that may not already have an answer in a database and will need to be deduced from multiple facts.

To me this sounds like nothing more than an Infocom parser attached to a local dump of Wikipedia.

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@3vi1: Even if Watson receives the questions electronically, it is still bound by the signaling rules in Jeopardy! The contestants are required to withhold ringing in to answer until the entire question has been read. If they try to ring in early, they actually get locked out for a few seconds. You can see the results of this on some of the shows where a contestant is frantically hitting their button, but someone else gets to answer. So Watson would have to wait until the question is finished being read by the host before ringing in, which levels the playing field.

In addition, from what I understand there is a certain expected body of knowledge that a Jeopardy contestant is expected to know when they are competing, which pretty much amounts to their own database of accessible information. So this really does come down to a competition of an organic computer database vs a digital one. The digital one has no problems remembering its information whereas the organic one is more flexible and, as you point out, is able to better handle the questions that are random or require some form of wordplay to answer. Neither system is perfect, but they both have their distinct advantages which may or may not balance in the end.

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If that is the case than it's not as impressive as I originally thought... But it should at least be able to always answer in the form of a question!

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I believe the "receiving things electronically" is really pretty trivial. As long as the lighting is consistent, it's not that hard to program a vision system to read something. There are many systems that can do this for like $10k (Cognex is probably the most well known).

Unless you're saying that it receives the questions or subject areas at an earlier time. If that's the case, I think you're right.

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JCook: A vision system in itself is also pretty trivial, what's the use of it when all it'll be used for is reading the questions, they should be thinking "what else could a vision system do if it was in the eyes of a supercomputer?" Also I'll be tuning in just to see if this supercomputer has all that it got, I don't care if it does know everything, there's still the level playing field.

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So...Basicaly...a super fast search engine!

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It is funny to see Watson spit out a completely random answer, and Im glad they overlooked their shortcomings to share this.

It would be cool to see Watson respond to voice, rather than electronic delivery. The computer would have to listen for tonal changes to pick up the accent of the question to prevent buzzing in early and getting blocked out, like FSkornia said.

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