Last night on Jeopardy, it was man versus machine, and the machine was not the cold and stoic Alex Trebek. An IBM super computer named Watson competed against legendary Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in what was the first round of a three-day competition on the classic quiz show.
Watson is the culmination of seven years of research into artificial intelligence by IBM. He is filled with encyclopedias worth of data and programmed to interpret nuance, idioms, and riddles in the English language.
But, of course, Watson is not perfect. He got really frustrated at one point and started spewing obscenities from his mouth and smoke from his ears, and slumped off the stage with a robotic shuffle.
If only. If only Watson cared that much. Or was programmed to do that.
His mistakes were some a human wouldn't have made, but we can give him a break. He doesn't have a brain, after all. For example, on one question, Jennings answered, "What is 1920?" which Alex said was incorrect. Then Watson chimed in with "What is 1920?" Poor old Watson can't hear, so he had no idea that answer had already been eliminated. (He doesn't hear the questions, either -- he's fed them in text form as Alex reads them aloud.)
Watson is going for the $1 million prize against Jennings and Rutter, and so far he's tied with Rutter with $5,000; Jennings is in third with $2,000. If Watson wins, IBM is donating all the money to charity.
The bigger question here is what can A.I. like Watson's do for us? I remember Rosie the maid from The Jetsons -- I wouldn't be upset if Watson could be a saucy sidekick in my home, helping me clean and take care of the kids.
The second round of Watson vs. The Humans is tonight. The abstruse consequences of a Watson victory are exciting to think about. I'm putting my name on the Watson waiting-list for 2050 -- I'm sure I'll need robotic help by then (and will hopefully be able to afford it. Eek.).
What do you think of Watson on Jeopardy?
Photo via ibmphoto24/Flickr