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Posted at 10:13 AM ET, 02/17/2011

Lunch break reading: Watson wins big on 'Jeopardy!'

By Hayley Tsukayama

By now, you've probably heard that Watson, the IBM computer contestant, ran away with a win on "Jeopardy!" last night. Here are some of the most entertaining and illuminating reactions to the win:

PCWorld has a great blow-by-blow of the episode, but it was all over by the time Final Jeopardy came around. Watson fell down on the last Final Jeopardy and identified Toronto as a U.S. city, since it had trouble distinguishing between "U.S." and American.

Slate has an essay from Ken Jennings, the affable "Jeopardy!" champion who placed second, just ahead of formerly undefeated contestant Brad Rutter. A taste of Jennings' prose: "Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman."

Forbes' Tradigital talks about some weaknesses Watson has that humans don't -- puns and the inability to read caps lock, for example -- that may give comfort to those smarting over the humans' loss.

The New York Times has a pair of good Watson reads, a super-techy tear-down of what helped Watson win and an homage to his philosophical predecessor, Deep Blue, the computer that beat chess champion Gary Kasparov at his own game and then retired to the Smithsonian.

Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter took matters (and a baseball bat) into their own hands after the final show, in what Engadget called "sweet, carbon-based revenge."

"Poor poor Watson, he doesn't have any arms or legs to defend himself with!" says the text over at TeamCoCo.com. "That really wasn't an intelligent design move. Maybe Watson 2.0 will have some better defense mechanisms."

And, finally, what was the source of Ken Jenning's Final Jeopardy joke, "I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords"? Simpsons did it, of course.

By Hayley Tsukayama  | February 17, 2011; 10:13 AM ET
Categories:  Computers, Gadgets  
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Comments

All you really need is a giant trivia datanase, a very fast parallel computer with a googleplex of memory and the following database organizer: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Optimal_classification

Posted by: brasstack | February 17, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

@brasstack - the breakthrough behind Watson is its ability to find answers to trivia in unstructured text. Watson didn't use a database of structured trivia information to find answers to questions. It was using newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, and other sources that it has in its memory.

Posted by: gophercrow | February 17, 2011 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Rob - It's Brad Rutter, not Mutter.

Posted by: elyrest | February 17, 2011 11:57 PM | Report abuse

@brasstack - the breakthrough behind Watson is its ability to find answers to questions in unstructured text - its ability to understand natural language. Watson didn't use a database of structured trivia information to find answers to questions. It was using plain text newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, and other sources that it has in its memory. It's not perfect, and it made some funny mistakes, but it's still an important innovation.

Posted by: gophercrow | February 18, 2011 12:00 AM | Report abuse

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