IBM Invents Jeopardy-Playing Computer

Chris Higgins

IBM has created a supercomputer that plays the TV game show Jeopardy. In English. And yes, it buzzes in. We can also presume that "Watson," our new Jeopardy overload, phrases its answers in the form of a question -- every time, without fail. And it does all this without being connected to the internet -- Watson stores all its answers in an offline database. So are we doomed? Is Jeopardy now going the way of chess, a game where even the best humans can be beaten by a computer? The short answer: not yet.

Network World has a preview of the Watson system entitled IBM's Jeopardy-playing machine can now beat human contestants. But IBM is being very cagey about which humans, and how often. Here's a snippet:

IBM's Jeopardy-playing supercomputer is now capable of beating human Jeopardy contestants on a regular basis, but has a ways to go before it takes on the likes of 74-time champion Ken Jennings. IBM announced plans to build a computer that can win on Jeopardy last April, and expects to stage a public tournament involving human players and the machine within the next year or so. The question-answering system, nicknamed "Watson", is already doing trial runs against people who have actually appeared on the Alex Trebek-hosted Jeopardy. Watson's competition includes people who qualified for the show but lost, people who appeared and won once, and people who appeared and won twice. Watson is "working its way up through the ranks," says David Ferrucci, leader of the project team. "We win some, we lose some. Overall, we're quite competitive but there's a ways to go to play the top of the top."

So how far is "a ways to go?" Apparently IBM reps won't specify, so I'm willing to bet their machine needs a lot of work. And I'll just go on record now saying that if Watson beats Ken Jennings (74 times) I'll eat my hat. Or a hat, anyway. A small, edible hat is what I'll eat.

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