I held off until this afternoon to write about supercomputer Watson’s debut on “Jeopardy!” for the sake of any readers who may have recorded the show to watch later (and those who live in television markets where “Jeopardy!” airs later than it does in Chicago). But now I believe it’s safe to do so since some news outlets have published stories about the first day of the three-day IBM Challenge.
Watson is a supercomputer created by IBM programmers to beat the best human competitors at “Jeopardy!” Whether they succeeded remains to be seen Wednesday, but as of the end of Monday’s show, Watson and Brad Rutter were tied at $5,000 each, while Ken Jennings (who won an amazing 74 consecutive “Jeopardy!” games in 2004) trailed them with only $2,000. But it’s still early; the IBM Challenge consists of two games played over three days (with plenty of explanation about Watson’s programming and preparation for the contest filling the additional air time), and the first show covered only the first round of the first game. The rest of the first game will be played on today’s show, and the full second game will unfold on Wednesday’s show.
There were some interesting moments on the show. Watson’s first pick, an $800 clue, happened to be the Daily Double clue for that round. Watson also repeated an incorrect answer first given by Jennings. Watson is programmed not to repeat incorrect answers, but it didn’t know that Jennings’ “What are the ’20s?” answer was the same as its answer, “What are the 1920s?” Its IBM programmers probably weren’t happy with that moment.
A neat part of the show is the look at how Watson determines its answers. For every clue, Watson’s top three guesses at the answer are shown at the bottom of the TV screen, and Watson will try to activate its buzzer only if its top guess passes a certain threshold of probability.
I’ll watch the second show today and post about it tomorrow. I recommend that if you’re interested in the “man vs. machine” competition but can watch only one show, watch the third show when a whole game is played.
To read more about the IBM Challenge, check out this online Q&A discussion Jennings did for The Washington Post this morning.