Monday, February 14, 2011

Jeopardy: Watson computer no better than humans so far

Jeopardy!" pitted two of its best players ever against a superhuman opponent on Monday (Feb. 14).

Well, maybe not superhuman -- but definitely nonhuman. The long-running game show began its "IBM Challenge" Monday by having all-time champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter play against Watson, a supercomputer that IBM programmers have been using to perfect natural-language processing. (An avatar for the computer, which is the size of a server room, sat behind the podium on stage.)

But hold off on the Skynet doom-and-gloom predictions for now: The humans held their own, at least through the first round.

Watson -- who received information via text files at the same time Alex Trebek read the questions -- jumped off to a fast start. Midway through the first round, the computer had $5,200 to Rutter's $1,000 and Jennings' $200.

Things evened out later on, though, and by the end of round one, Rutter and Watson were tied with $5,000 each, while Jennings trailed with $2,000.

One thing maybe Watson can't do is react to other players' mistakes. In the first round's "name the decade" category, Jennings incorrectly identified the decade Oreos were introduced and the first modern crossword was published as the 1920s; Watson gave the same answer a moment later. Rutter correctly answered the 1910s.

The IBM Challenge includes two "Jeopardy!" games played over three days. Monday's show included a couple of segments about Watson's development, so only one round was played. The challenge continues Tuesday and Wednesday; check your local listings for times.