IBM's Watson edges Harvard students in 'Jeopardy' quiz

MIT students also took part in the competition with IBM's supercomputer

IBM's Watson supercomputer eked out a victory in a "Jeopardy" quiz-show battle with a trio of Harvard Business School students on Monday, pulling out the win with a higher wager on the Final Jeopardy clue that ends every game.

Both Watson and the HBS students got the final answer, Mount Rushmore, correct, but Watson bet more of its winnings and ended up with US$56,331 to HBS's $42,399. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management also played but couldn't find its rhythm during the contest, and ended up with just $100. No actual money was at stake.

Watson marries an array of software for natural-language processing and other tasks with a hardware cluster containing 2,880 Power processor cores, and finds answers to "Jeopardy" questions from a massive content archive prepared by IBM.

The students didn't compete against Watson head-to-head, however. IBM had Watson answer each question ahead of time, and its answers and the speed with which it replied were loaded into a different computer that was used to play the game. However, software used for game strategy was run in real time, said David Ferrucci, principal investigator of the Watson project.

Nor did "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek make the trek to Boston. Actor Todd Crain stood in for him, lending an animated but polished tone to the proceedings. IBM has hired Crain to host a number of mock "Jeopardy" sessions pitting Watson against former show contestants, he said.

Watson played the top, real-life "Jeopardy" champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter earlier this year and defeated both of them.

But for a time on Monday it appeared Watson could fall, as a crowd inside a Harvard campus hall roared its approval.

The Harvard and MIT crews appeared to have an advantage with clues involving various types of wordplay. For example, Harvard buzzed in ahead of Watson when asked to provide the equivalent to "George W.'s rumps." The correct answer: "Bush's tushes."

But in an interview prior to the contest, HBS contestant Jonas Akins described his team's preparations in simple terms. "We watched some shows and talked about our relative strengths," Akins said. One of his teammates, Genevieve Sheehan, was able to lend an insider's edge: She once appeared on the real "Jeopardy" show.

The most successful players must master the show's tricky buzzer, which calls for proper timing after the question is asked, rather than simply hitting the buzzer fastest.

"The buzzers don't get activated until Alex is finished reading each question," Jennings wrote on his website. "If you buzz in too early, the system actually locks you out for a fifth of a second or so. But if you're too late, the player next to you is going to get in first."

It appeared during Monday's game that both university teams had some difficulty getting their timing down, but Watson seemed to get locked out now and again too. Still, while the "Jeopardy" games Jennings played were run in a "scrupulously fair" manner, "without its buzzer edge, Watson isn't yet good enough to beat top human players," he wrote on his site.

And Watson wasn't always so adept at parsing human language, Ferrucci said during a talk prior to the game. "There was a lot of work that went into developing the algorithms."

He showed a series of "Jeopardy" clues posed to Watson in its earlier days.

The room exploded with laughter when Ferrucci showed Watson's response to a clue referring to "the Father of Bacteriology," or Louis Pasteur: "How tasty was my little Frenchman."

While Watson has been able to defeat human players, the world should take solace in the sprawling amount of technology and research this feat has required, according to Ferrucci. The human brain "fits in a shoebox," he noted, and can run on the energy supplied by "a tuna sandwich."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags applicationsroboticsIBMcontent managementsoftwareinternetbusiness intelligencesearch engines

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?