IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

Summary: IBM's Watson supercomputer won a practice round against Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter and raised a lot of questions about the capabilities of artificial intelligence. Should we be squeamish?

SHARE:
TOPICS: CXO, Hardware, IBM
12

IBM's Watson supercomputer won a practice round against Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter and raised a lot of questions about the capabilities of artificial intelligence.

Watson, a four-year effort by IBM, was quicker on the draw, didn't fall prey to emotion and had a voice that could be confused for wayward computer Hal 9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. For IBM, Watson is about tackling verticals and bringing hardware and analytics to the fore.

As one of the dozens of humans watching this practice round, I can't deny I was a bit squeamish about seeing a supercomputer wing it, adapt and show off its artificial intelligence. Is this thing going to be Skynet? That's a bit farfetched---today IBM is thinking health care will make the most use of Watson---but a supercomputer that has self-awareness and can learn gives this human pause. David Ferrucci, principal investigator of Watson DeepQA technology, said Watson can conduct self-assessments and learn.

IBM's Watson gets its Jeopardy warm-up

Naturally Ferrucci was asked about whether Watson had the risk of Hal 9000. "That's science fiction," said Ferrucci. "We're not even close to that." Ferrucci, however, did add that Watson is more like the computer on Star Trek than Hal.

Here's a look at the practice rounds. Apologies in advance for the video quality.

When the duel was finished, Watson won the round with $4,400, Jennings had $3,400 with Rutter bringing in $1,200.

IBM execs, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, Rutter and Jennings fielded questions after the round. Among the key points:

  • The Jeopardy questions hit Watson's chips as soon as the human retinas get the data. To take away any advantage, Watson has a mechanism to hit a signaling device, said Trebek.
  • It was odd watching a supercomputer playing a category called "chicks dig me"
  • The Jeopardy champs had more concerns about Watson coming back from the future and harming them. Skynet quips were plentiful.
  • Watson cannot be psyched out, which is a problem for human players. Jennings and Rutter said that it's a disadvantage to play a computer that has no emotions. Both Jeopardy champs said they were able to psych out rivals during their win streaks.
  • Rutter said Watson can be a bit overwhelming. Jennings and Rutter quipped about how computer capabilities are part of human advancement, but acknowledged that they were a bit uncomfortable. Jennings said he "didn't want technology to advance that far just yet." When John Kelly III, director of IBM Research reminded Jennings and Rutter that computer and human intelligence were at an intersection point and computing would only improve, Rutter quipped: "So we're all extinct."
  • I asked Rutter what it was like playing against Watson. "I'm impressed with Watson and its speed," he said. "But after 10 or 15 questions Watson is just another good player. I have every confidence that we'll do well."
  • If Rutter had Watson to help as a singularity tool, the Jeopardy champ said he'd most likely to be able to better assess risks for Double Jeopardy. "Watson's biggest advantage has algorithms that can make bets instantly," said Rutter. "If I had Watson's algorithm I could make bets and assess risk."
  • What's Watson's biggest weakness? Rutter said Watson's ability to understand human language and get the quips inserted by writers. "They tell me Watson can get jokes and have fun," said Rutter.

Topics: CXO, Hardware, IBM

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

12 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • So how long will it be...

    before call centers will be at IBM?
    serpentmage
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    This is not progress.
    james347
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    i want one in my car now plz :)
    KBot
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    Does this mean I should retrofit my bunker for the Zombie Apocalypse to handle Robotic overlords as well?
    Aerowind
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    Maybe we found the replacement for Steve Ballmer at Microsoft.
    sean_hando@...
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    To be fair, the question should not be read aloud. It's a distraction the machine doesn't have. Note that Watson beats the humans at pretty simple questions... it looks like a "beeper" advantage. Explain Trebek's first comment--makes no sense.
    SlowButEffective
  • No cheating?

    So Watson genuinely just gets the text questions in natural language? They are not converted to some symbolic representation or programming language?
    The Star King
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    It'll be interesting to see how Watson handles wagering in Final Jeopardy.
    notaneer
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    complete and utter fraud. notice how watson never gets a question wrong.
    randomwhiteguy
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    @randomwhiteguy <br>There's no deception going on. The system only answers when it believes that it is likely to be correct. If the system answered every question, you would see that it is wrong maybe 20% of the time (I don't know what the current numbers are, so this is a rough estimate).

    <p>The reason Watson seems to get everything right is that it estimates how confident it is in the answer, and only attempts to answer when that confidence exceeds a certain threshold, with the specific goal of maximizing its score (you would think that threshold is 50%, but actually it's a little lower to account for the extremely bad answers it generates with low confidence).
    visburr
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    I think it's amazing how much hardware has gone into Watson, check out an article one of our authors wrote: http://gigacircuit.com/2011/01/ibm-supercomputer-competes-in-jeopardy/
    Gigacircuit
  • RE: IBM's Watson wins Jeopardy practice round: Can humans hang?

    The system only answers when it believes that it is likely to be correct. <a href="http://betting-free-bets.com">free bets</a>
    marco5811