Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Two Men and a Machine

Two men and a machine and Alex Trebek.
    Ken Jennings won 74 games in a row on Jeopardy! in 2005.  Brad Rutter won $3.3 million in his appearances.  Watson is a giant computer named after a former president of IBM.  And, in case you haven't notices, all three have been playing Jeopardy! together.
   That is right, Jeopardy! has brought back its arguably two most successful contestents to take on a specially constructed supercomputer, made by IBM and more evolved than the infamous Deep Blue, who defeated World Champion Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997.  Over a three-day series the three will battle to see who will win, with the winner taking home a cool million bucks.  IBM has declared that they will give the prize money to charity, should they win.
     The scores are shockingly low, at least to me.  Rutter and Watson were tied with $5000 each after the first day, and Jennings had $2000 to stand alone in third place.  Each answered a number of questions right, obviously, but there were some chinks in what one would think was Watson's pretty impressive armor.  I mean, he obviously could store tons of fact and information, and he has some pretty impressive stats.  He is powered by 90 IBM Power 750 servers, has 15 terabytes of RAM (there are all those fact we were talking about),  and can do 80 trillion operations per second (that's 80,000,000,000,000,000 if I have my zeroes correct, which I might not).  It took 25 scientists 4 years to create, and only God knows how many lines of code, and how many semicolons went into the programming.
     Like I said, though, there were some problems.  It obviously wasn't the fastest to answer a lot of questions, and it did get some answers wrong.  While it got a questions about a Beatles song right ("Hey Jude", blech), it did come up with the wrong Latin word for "terminal" (don't worry, Watson, I couldn't come up with that either) and it repeated another player's mistake because it can't interact with them.  Therefore, when it came up with the answer "Beethoven" instead of "Jamie Foxx" (talk about opposite ends of the spectrum) it couldn't give a snappy comeback when Ritter joked "I get the two mixed up all the time." 
     So in the end, what is the deal with all of this business?  What do we stand to gain, short of 1½ hours of entertainment?  Well, IBM will use a lot of what they learned from the performance of Watson in more practical applications, like medical diagnosis.  They will also sort of get a gauge as to where they are in the development of artificial intelligence, or AI.  You know, where they stand and how far they have to go.  Plus, we will know by the end of the day Wednesday, February 16 just who sits on top of the intelligence ladder: The machine, or the man who made it.

(Editor's Note: Watson whalloped the two men on day two of the challenge, which was the Double Jeopardy round of the first of two games.  The second game will be anormal format on Wednesday)

(Editor's Note: Final 3-day tally: Watson $77,147, Jennings $24,000, Rutter $21,600. On the screen with his correct Final Jeopardy answer Ken Jennings wrote "I for one welcome our new computer overlords.)

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