February 15, 2011

Jeopardy! Day One – Man vs. Computer – Ends In Draw

Despite displaying a few quirks, an IBM computer played to a draw on the opening day of a man vs. machine showdown with two human champions of the popular US television game show Jeopardy!. The computer, represented on stage by a large computer monitor, was frequently quicker to the buzzer than the human player, correctly answering questions in its artificial voice, reports the AFP news agency.

The supercomputer "Watson," named after the founder of IBM Thomas Watson, and human contestant Brad Rutter each had $5,000 after the first day of the three-day match. Ken Jennings, the third player in this much anticipated match was trailing the pair with $2,000.

The ability to understand language and solve problems through complex algorithms shows Watson to be much more advanced than Deep Blue, an IBM chess-playing supercomputer that beat world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

One clue posed by host Alex Trebek on Monday's show was, "Any time you feel the pain, hey -- this guy -- Don't carry the world upon your shoulders." "Who is Jude?" answered Watson, following the show's trademark question-as-an-answer style, Reuters reports.

Watson also gave correct responses to clues about the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo and US Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps. However, the supercomputer also made some errors, coming up with the wrong Latin word for "terminal" and repeating a mistake previously made by another contestant, as it cannot interact with the other participants.

In a practice session earlier, Watson mistakenly named Beethoven instead of actor and musician Jamie Foxx, prompting contestant Brad Rutter to quip: "I get the two mixed up all the time." Watson didn't laugh, revealing what some say is another flaw -- the lack of a sense of humor.

Jeopardy!, first aired on US television in 1964, and tests a player's knowledge in a range of categories, including geography, politics and history, to sports and entertainment. A dollar amount is attached to each question and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Players have money deducted for wrong answers.

In this version of the game, the computer receives the clues electronically by text message at the same time as they are revealed to the human contestants. The first player to hit the buzzer is allowed to answer the question.

Watson is not connected to the internet, but instead plays the game by crunching through algorithms at high speed and attaching a percentage score to what it believes is the correct response.

On Wednesday, the final of the three taped shows will air with contestants vying for a grand prize of $1 million. IBM plans to donate all of Watson's winnings to charity.

IBM spends around $6 billion a year on research and development. An unspecified part of that goes to what it calls "grand challenges," or big, multiyear science projects such as Watson and Deep Blue. IBM executives have told AFP that Watson's linguistic and analytical abilities may eventually help develop new products in areas such as medical diagnosis.


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