IBM's Watson Puts Game Face On, Wins Jeopardy by Wide Margin

Sorry humans, but it's time to welcome your new robot overlords. After last night's airing of Jeopardy, it's only a matter of time before our gadgets turn against us, perhaps led by Watson or some other equally intelligent creation. You see, Watson is the name given to IBM's supercomputer, which proved both faster and smarter than the two most decorated Jeopardy champions of all time.

Watson, which is much too large to fit behind a podium, was represented by an avatar and fed the questions via text. This occurred at the same time Jeopardy host Alex Trebek read the questions out loud to Ken Jennings, who hold's Jeopardy's longest win streak ever at 74 games, and Brad Rutter, whose more than $3.2 million in winnings is also a record. But they were no match for Watson, who rang in faster and answered more questions correctly, including a pair of Daily Double questions, one of which Watson was only about 32 percent sure of his answer yet still got it correct.

Final Jeopardy was more of a formality than a necessity, because by that time, Watson's lead was insurmountable. The only way Watson could lose is if it bet too heavily and got the answer wrong. Watson did, in fact, answer incorrectly, guessing "Toronto" in response to "Its largest airport was named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle." The category was "US Cities." Watson's wager was a mere $947, leaving it with $35,734 compared to $10,400 for Brad Rutter and $4,800 for Ken Jennings. Still, how did Watson get the question wrong?

"David Ferrucci, the manager of the Watson project at IBM Research, explained during a viewing of the show on Monday morning that several things probably confused Watson," IBM said in a blog post. "First, the category names on Jeopardy! are tricky. The answers often do not exactly fit the category. Watson, in his training phase, learned that categories only weakly suggest the kind of answer that is expected, and, therefore, the machine downgrades their significance. The way the language was parsed provided an advantage for the humans and a disadvantage for Watson, as well. “What US city” wasn’t in the question. If it had been, Watson would have given US cities much more weight as it searched for the answer. Adding to the confusion for Watson, there are cities named Toronto in the United States and the Toronto in Canada has an American League baseball team. It probably picked up those facts from the written material it has digested. Also, the machine didn’t find much evidence to connect either city’s airport to World War II. (Chicago was a very close second on Watson’s list of possible answers.) So this is just one of those situations that’s a snap for a reasonably knowledgeable human but a true brain teaser for the machine."

Fair enough explanation, but did Watson have an unfair advantage?

"My main question regarding Watson, is, doesn't he have a great advantage due to his reaction time to push the button way before the other 2 contestants? It seems unfair that he can ring in every time before the other 2 humans with slow reaction times," someone posted on Jeopardy's Facebook page.

That would seem to the be the case, but it doesn't take away from Watson's impressive ability to formulate a correct response from sometimes ambiguous clues.

The man versus machine competition concludes tonight in round 3. Will you be tuning in?