Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 8:59 AM ET, 02/16/2011

Watson runs off with the Jeopardy! round, beating Jennings and Rutter

By Hayley Tsukayama

Jeopardy! practice game(2)(2).jpg
(Image courtesy of IBM)

In the first round of the battle between man and machine, there's a clear winner.

Watson, the IBM computer programmed to analyze human speech ran away with the first round, netting $35,734. That's practically a rout when compared to 74-time champion Ken Jennings' $4,800 and 20-time champion Brad Rutter's winnings of $10,400.

While Watson has its difficulties -- for example, it can't hear wrong answers others have given -- its clear that they aren't much of a disadvantage. The only question that appeared to give the computer a lot of trouble in Tuesday's episode was Final Jeopardy. The question, on U.S. Cities asked which city had its largest airport named for a World War II war hero and its second largest named for a World War II battle. The answer is Chicago, -- O'Hare and Midway -- but Watson put forth a hesitant "What is Toronto?????" instead, indicating that its geography may not be quite up to par.

The wrong answer, however, only cost it $947, and it still has a sizable lead. The competition heads into its third day and final today.

Who are you rooting for?


By Hayley Tsukayama  | February 16, 2011; 8:59 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Apple demands subscription revenue from publishers
Next: Angry Birds will be on Windows Phone 7 and in 3D

Comments

Jennings stated that the Bot also has a robot-fast trigger finger on the answer button. So, not only is it's brain hard-wired with billions of facts, so too, is it possessed of lightning-quick digits.

It's not fair, really. Even if the contest were only about State Capitols, the Humans would be at a disadvantage as that's what we developed computers and machinery FOR, the mechanized repetition of boring and wearing physical movements and and the retrieval of particular items from massive quantities of archived data.

If the Humans had 'won', that would have been a condemnation of our efforts, not a celebration of some sort of continuing superiority.

Posted by: notinca | February 16, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

On a morning TV show, Jennings stated that the Bot also has a robot-fast trigger finger on the answer button. So, not only is it's brain hard-wired with billions of facts, so too, is it possessed of lightning-quick digits.

It's not fair, really. Even if the contest were only about State Capitols, the Humans would be at a disadvantage as that's what we developed computers and machinery FOR, the mechanized repetition of boring and wearing physical movements and and the retrieval of particular items from massive quantities of archived data.

If the Humans had 'won', that would have been a condemnation of our efforts, not a celebration of some sort of continuing superiority.

Posted by: notinca | February 16, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse

actually, Jennings also said that Watson was programmed so that it could not hit the buzzer at all until it had decided on an answer it was confident of. Humans like Jennings almost always hit the buzzer before they have an answer as soon as they see a key word that they recognize.

Posted by: JoeT1 | February 16, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm looking forward to the next episode, where the robot from the future gets sent back in time to destroy Watson before it becomes self aware...

Posted by: ozpunk | February 16, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

@JoeT1: You are correct, but not entirely. I can attest from personal experience that a quick-minded human JEOPARDY! contestant is capable of mentally processing, in the vast majority of instances, each clue, and having an answer in mind - or lack of same - within the time it takes for Mr. Trebek to read the clue. (The exceptions are generally those requiring multiple levels of word play and/or answer component combinations.) The key factor thus is not so much Watson's head start in being furnished with the complete clue as it is Watson's advantage in not having to process the "OK to ring in" signal with human eyes and thumbs. Those milliseconds make all the difference.

I still don't understand, though, how Watson could have erred the way it did on the Final Jeopardy answer. One would think that the computer would be able to instantaneously rule out any potential response that was not entered into its data bank as a US city. Was Watson not furnished with the Final Jeopardy category? Or is this a key programming deficiency?

Posted by: nan_lynn | February 16, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Watson's more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.

Posted by: freshfudge1 | February 16, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of the outcome, and it seems pretty obvious at this point, this is history in the making. That artificial intelligence can analyze and discard millions of incorrect answers in only a few seconds is incredible. Watson often sounds a bit like Hal, which is a little disconcerting.

A curiosity is why can't Watson hear, both the question and the wrong answers? Obviously we have pretty sophisticated voice recognition software out there. Why isn't IBM using it?

Posted by: panamacanuck | February 16, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Rooting for the humans at least they knew that the final answer was in the correct country!! Watson should be disqualified just on that answer alone, unless he was making a joke. Watch out for SkyNET. All this is proving is that Watson can ring in faster, the humans know the correct answers that much is clear.

Posted by: rtupper | February 16, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

This seems oddly similar to the Chess-playing computer from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles that became a key component in the rise of the machines, and evenutally Judgment Day...except that was fiction.

Posted by: Sportaholic | February 16, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

The game is skewered toward Watson, first by having a buzzer (humans can't compete) and second by not having reasoning answers like The 2 religions (neither mentioned by name) that were denigrated by Thomas Paine in "Common Sense" (Islam may be linked by Watson, Roman Catholic I would doubt).

Posted by: jameschirico | February 16, 2011 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I watched the first night out of curiosity. Unless I misunderstood Alex, Watson has a distinct advantage in getting the text question at the beginning of the question, not at the end. If that's the case, and with an advantage like that, there's no doubt which contestant is going to win.

Posted by: BobMc1 | February 16, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

At least from the point of view of a viewer, that we can't hear Watson Buzz in is a real problem--I need that audible clue to follow, as well as evaluate against my own performance.

That Watson can run the search and evaluation so fast using a brute force approach does give credence to the idea that a union of human and computer may be the way to go for "strong AI".

Posted by: jedipenguin | February 16, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

IBM has something online that helps explain the Final Jeopardy issue:

http://asmarterplanet.com/blog/2011/02/watson-on-jeopardy-day-two-the-confusion-over-an-airport-clue.html

The gist of it is that because the category titles are often potentially misleading or vague, Watson is programmed not to pay a lot of attention to them. Obviously, in this situation, that came back to bite him--but since he didn't pull a Cliff Clavin wager, it was no big deal.


What I found interesting was watching the way Watson jumped from category to category. I suspect that this was a function of being programmed to try to find the Daily Doubles. Human contestants are a lot more likely to work straight through a given category, and I suspect the reason is because it's easier for us to stay focused on a single topic once we're thinking about it than it is for us to jump from topic to topic. A computer doesn't face that limitation, so it has a strategic advantage in that respect.

Incidentally, Watson's answer to one of the Beatles questions should have been called wrong. Watson said, "What is Maxwell's Silver Hammer?" The correct question should have been "Who is Maxwell?"

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 16, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

It would be helpful, since I have not watch Watson episode of Jeopardy for the author to explain some of the details of how the computer receives the questions and responds? Does it do voice recognition? How does it push the button? More details please? I am def interested in the article just left with a lot of questions.

Posted by: gsutton57 | February 16, 2011 5:17 PM | Report abuse

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you... to tell me the answer to this question."

Posted by: dshepherd2 | February 16, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

@1995hoo: (1) THANKS for the link! The article, and even more so the comments, are very illuminating. (2) RE your "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" comment, I noticed that as well, but I disagree that it "should" have been ruled Incorrect. The JEOPARDY! staff (Trebek has a panel of judges offstage advising him on iffy responses) has made a practice of ruling Correct answers which repeat keywords in the original clue while appending the missing, sought-after keyword.

Posted by: nan_lynn | February 16, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

How many of your think that Rob P. kinda looks like Ken J.?

Posted by: peter51 | February 16, 2011 6:26 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how Watson would do with a category such as rhyme time:e.g. inebriated insect =high fly. Or an answer that is an idiom.

Posted by: mj2007 | February 16, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

@mj2007: Poorly, I suspect. Those types of questions were specifically eliminated.

Posted by: nan_lynn | February 16, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

One last observation from me: As some posters posited (if not here, then on the article 1995hoo linked), it appears from tonight's game that the humans were able to reliably beat Watson to the buzz on certain types of questions, to wit those that: (1) required synthesizing more than one type of information; (2) took very little time to read; or (3) both. This validates the time advantage theory. The longer it took to read a question aloud, the more time Watson had to search its database and come up with the correct answer to a high degree of confidence. In those instances, Watson rarely if ever lost the buzzer race.

Posted by: nan_lynn | February 16, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Let us not forget that IBM was the company that brought us the numbers on the arms of Jews, and others in WWII. I am sure that IBM's vision of the new world order is very different from most of ours.

Secondly, the computer is receiving the questions digitally and I am sure recognizes the questions much quicker than the humans that have to read and understand the questions = unfair advantage.

Thirdly, I'm sure IBM will parlay this into lots of money.

helpfuled

Posted by: edmbenson | February 16, 2011 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company