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February 13, 2011

Humans versus Watson on Jeopardy Feb 14-16 2010

This week is a big one in search technology. Well, sort of - if you liked seeing IBM's 'Deep Blue' beat Garry Kasparov back in 1996.

For several years, a team at IBM has been working on a computer system - dubbed 'Watson' - that will be one of the featured players this week on the game show Jeopardy.

The IBM team has been working on the project for years. According to NOVA, Watson has passed the screening interview required of all players; and this week - Monday the 14th through Wednesday the 16th - Watson will take on the two best human players in Jeopardy history, Ken Jennings and Brat Rutter, in a historic match. The Nova special, 'The Smartest Machine on Earth', tells the story in a captivating way without too much waving of the hands. It takes us through the low points and the ultimate high point, when, in a test round a few months ago, Watson soundly defeated two human players.

Main_event Watson is not connected to the Internet, so it's on its own at air time. The system is not voice-driven, so for input it receives the question in the form of a text stream when the director clicks the magic button to flip the question. Watson can buzz in like the human players, and it speaks the 'question' in a synthesized human voice. Because it cannot listen to the other players' wrong answers, the IBM support engineers 'notify' Watson when there was a wrong answer so it can use that information in its determination.

Watching the practice round linked above is interesting: they've overlaid Watson's answers even when it did not buzz in first; and it is uncanny how often Watson was right - just too late to buzz in.

This doesn't apply to search engines just yet; Watson is programmed for the nuances of the game show and isn't billed as an AI device. Still, it's interesting to see the work the iBM team put into getting Watson ready; and we'll se how it does this week.

Man versus machine: sounds like something right out of the Firesign Theater's 'I think we're all Bozos on this bus' when 'Ah Clem' takes on the President and wins. Except that this time it might be a chance for revenge if Watson can pull it off: check it out this week, Monday through Wednesday!




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From what I saw, every time Watson was "green" on his answer display, he was fast enough to buzz in. At least on the game itself. But it did not try to buzz in if it was uncertain; often then it seemed like he had something related to the right answer, but it was not the first item. So, one thing they might have gotten right was that Watson did a pretty good job of knowing when he did NOT know something.

Actually it was interesting to me how many times Watson had it right but not in time to beat the human who buzzed in sooner. It was also a bit funny how often he was totally off. And I enjoyed the 'Daily Doubles' where he did not have a confidence level, he'd say "I'll take a guess.."
Thanks for commenting! /s/Miles

Not really a fair fight, Watson got the question via text as soon as it's shown. The way Watson works is by breaking down text and looking for patterns. The human players have to read fast or listen to Alex. If Watson had to use speech recognition or video recognition to properly process the question as we do, and I might add as the game is played and the official rules state; we would have a better measure of how good Watson is in a fair fight. As it is huge props to those guys for keeping pace with such clear "cheating" being done by Watson.
Well, I think the humans get to see the answer at the same time.. it may take them some time to read it, but yes, I guess Watson may have had a slight edge. If he had used speech to text, the humans would have had an edge perhaps. But in any event, it was interesting! Thanks for commenting!

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