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Video: Watch Ken Jennings Get Beaten in ‘Jeopardy!’ By a Computer

By / 01.14.11

You may recall that “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter

Watson has a certain self-awareness; it knows it won’t get every answer right, and has to pass a certain level of confidence before it will answer. Watson’s logo will change color to indicate its confidence: The lines that are part of its “avatar” will glow blue if Watson is confident, and orange if it’s not…

In the preview match I saw, which was all too quick, Watson performed surprisingly well. Not just well; it won handily, with $4,400 to Ken Jenning’s $3,400 and Brad Rutter’s $1,200. None of the contestants, human or machine, actually got a question wrong, but Watson seemed to be fastest at chiming in. Its weakest category was “Children’s Book Titles”; Ken Jennings nearly ran the category, and Brad Rutter later quipped that “Neither Watson nor I have kids.”

Good job, Rutter. Way to remind the robot that he’ll never find love. “Why? Why was I programmed to feel pain?”

The vagaries of language mean that the questions can be interpreted in all kinds of different ways, so merely figuring out what the question is trying to ask provides the majority of the struggle for Watson… It’s not likely that Watson will confuse, say, the author of one children’s book with the author of another. It’s more likely that Watson will completely misread what the question is even asking, and come up with an answer like “What is children?”

Haha, what a stupid robot.

In this introductory battle, we learned a few things about the adjustments made to the show to accommodate a more mechanical being than usual. The question feed goes directly into Watson, so it doesn’t have to “read” the question like the human competitors. But Watson does have to press a physical button to ring in, just like Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, which pretty much eliminates the split-second advantage the computer has.

Interestingly, Watson will not be connected to the Internet, so there won’t be any instant Wikipedia lookups. (IBM’s reasoning: “Ken [Jennings] and Brad [Rutter] aren’t connected to the Internet, so Watson shouldn’t be either.”) So where does this AI brain get its information? IBM’s engineers, without the benefit of the Internet, have to load all of Watson’s information manually, which includes encyclopedias, thesauruses, dictionaries, books, screenplays, and other compendiums of human knowledge.

There will be no audio or video clues in the eventual game, though the questions that require betting–Daily Double and Final Jeopardy–will remain. Watson performs a risk analysis on the categories given for those types of questions, though his precise reasoning means that his wagers are often unusual figures (a human might bet $2,000 instinctively, but Watson’s risk assessment might indicate that a bet of $1,986 is more prudent). Watson actually learns in real-time, within the category–if it doesn’t immediately understand a category, it will wait until a question or two in that category has been asked, and then use that data to figure out the pattern. Watson also takes the competition into account: If it’s losing, it might adjust to answer questions with which it has less confidence than if it was sitting on a large lead.

The two-day tournament starts on February 14th, so circle that date on your calendar and write “ROBOTS TAKE OVER” next to it. Upside: no need to buy your loved one a Valentine’s Day gift. Downside: our brains will be harvested for electrical energy.


TAGSBRAD RUTTERgame showsGRATUITOUS SIMPSONS REFERENCESjeopardyKEN JENNINGSRobots

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