Jeopardy, Watson go home

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.

Watson, oh, shut up

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.

Jennings: “welcome computer overlords”

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.

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6 comments On Jeopardy, Watson go home

  • Was this article written tongue in cheek?

    The Jeopardy-Watson match was not about whether or not Watson could defeat humans at Jeopardy. It obviously was not a fair competition even if only considering that Watson didn’t have to read or listen to the clues. Watson received them electronically.

    The contest was only an exhibition match. It was not an ad for IBM or a contest between humans or computers. Jennings and Rutter were only background scenery.

    The real benefit of this experiment was that it possibly created some advances or breakthrough in software technology. Not to mention that is was also entertaining, even the “tours of IBM’s premier lab, encomiums about natural language processing and wide-eyed researcher’s talking about what’s possible in science.”

  • I, for one, do not welcome our new computer overlords to diagnostic medicine, yet. Based on some of the truly ‘stupid’ (way off the mark) answers it gave I wouldn’t trust its programming. Never mind the confidence level. As we saw, that meant nothing.

  • Can’t we all just get along? What I have in mind particularly is when a doctor prescribes you a new medication and he/she gets all high & mighty about considerations of drug interactions. I use twelve different medications; that is a field of 66 possible interactions only one-on-one with the other medications. Add foods as only a group and there are 78. No human doctor can possibly render a complete judgment in a case like that. On the other hand, there is the human hunch which cannot be duplicated by computer… yet. So hurray for both. But, yes, let’s not waste time and effort playing a game.

  • Lou,

    I am 100% serious. I watched the show, bored out of my mind thinking how meaningless Watson’s responses were. I have covered IBM for 30 years as tech journalist and deeply respect the company — especially its R&D prowess. Had IBM not introduced the PC when it did, my career (16 years as news editor and editor of PC Week) might have taken a far less propitious turn.

    I suppose given a lot of the drek on TV, this was educational. I just did not like the dynamics. Interestingly, I let some IBMers know my feelings on Facebook, saying I supported the humans. The response from was “I support the humans who built Watson.” So do I, but stunts like this…nahhhh

  • You last sentence, Clarke….could not have put it better myself!

  • All……….
    First, let’s lighten up. It was entertainment, and it entertained. Objective met.
    Second, it provided some insights into our current ability to emulate the human data associative process. For this I thank Jeopardy, IBM and the contestants. I am better informed now.
    Third, I thank (and congratulate) each of the commentators above for their considered responses.
    I look forward to periodic rematches as algorithms improve and evolve. We are better off by these forays into artificial intelligence. Thanks to all who participated.

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