Over the past three nights, I have watched Watson, the IBM supercomputer, make mince meat of the two most formidable Jeopardy players ever. The inherently unfair contest gave me the creeps and was little more than an ad for IBM.
The game seemed rigged from the start. Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter came close several times to overtaking Watson, but they were never fast enough.
Jennings and Rutter pushed their buttons to no avail: Watson’s 15 trillion bytes of memory were just too fast. The humanoids knew the answers, but rarely got an answer in edgewise against Watson’s nano-quickness.
Jennings and Rutter were up against overwhelming processing power. I bet like me, they wished they had a mere terabyte of memory.
Jennings looked as if he might pull off a win tonight, the last of the this week’s three segments, but Watson came on strong as the round closed. Jennings’ frustration boiled over after the final round tonight when under his answer, he wrote “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”
I don’t think so. Neither he nor Rutter liked being IBM’s stooges. They put on a good front, but inside, they looked steamed.
I am sure Jeopardy (Sony) made scads of money on this not-so-epic battle, which as I pointed out earlier was 90 minutes of nonstop advertising for IBM Research. We were treated to tours of IBM’s premier lab, encomiums about natural language processing and wide-eyed researcher’s talking about what’s possible in science.
You could see Jennings and Rutter bristle as Watson tore through one uncomprehending response after another. The Big Blue audience cheered on Watson. After all, it aired at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. That’s like have home field advantage during the Super Bowl.
I rooted for the humans and booed the machine.
Watson really flubbed one question, which calls his so-called intelligence into question (gender-less Watson is likely a male given he’s named after IBM patriarch Thomas J. Watson). When asked on day two what U.S. city had an airport named after a WWII hero and one after a WWII battle, Watson said Toronto. It’s Chicago, dummy – O’Hare and Midway.
Alas, Watson amassed a total of $77,147 to Jennings’ 24,000 and Rutter’s $21,600. The only good thing about this match is that IBM will donate all Watson’s winnings to charity, but that’s a small price to pay for 90 minutes of prime time advertising.
I’m happy Jeopardy is departing IBM’s silicon-obsessed lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. and returning to LaLa land where it uses three human contestants. Watson’s future, apparently, lies in diagnostic medicine, according to a story in the this morning’s Boston Globe. That’s far far better than him dispassionately beating up humans on TV.
Follow me on Twitter.