My Dear Watson…

Don't call me Watson. That's not my name.

Image by charliecurve via Flickr

I was amazed watching Watson beat the hell out of Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy earlier this week.  There was just something eerie about watching Ken Jennings pretend to interact with a computer screen turned sideways.

I was impressed with Watson until he answered Toronto for a US City in Final Jeopardy.  This happened on the second night of the challenge, but then he was already thousands ahead and he only bet like $700.   So it knew it had it wrong.  We got to discussing it the next day, and the consensus was that Watson had no idea what a “us city” or a “u.s. city” was, but probably would have guessed right if they asked what “United States city.”  But in the end, we were probably completely full of it.  It would be hard to believe they left that abbreviation out of his three-refrigerator-sized database, but it appeared  they did.  In technical computation terms it has 15 petabytes of storage.  That’s a lot in case you don’t know what a petabyte is.

But Watson doesn’t hear, (although Ken Jennings kept talking to it during the show) and it seemed like it could.  It does speak the answer in the form of a question, as required in the game.  The catch here is the question is fed to Watson in text form at the same time Alek Trebek is reading it to the human contestants.  Watson then queries his huge database and comes up with its three best answers, then ranks them picking the highest probability.  It then must push a physical buzzer to answer, just like the two humans.  Seems like a computer could easily do this faster, and it did most of the time, but Ken Jennings is know for pushing the buzzer before he knows the answer, and Brad Rutter’s buzzer speed is so well-known to show regulars, the producers didn’t think it was going to be one-sided.

But Watson was pretty-much unbeatable.  You could even see Ken Jennings appear to get a little upset over is inability to beat the damn thing to the buzzer.

Just so you know, Watson didn’t put his name down as Turd Fergeson, and he didn’t wear a cowboy hat.  Photoshopped.  And IBM has some big plans for game playing computer.  Right now it’s been fed medical data to help doctors make more accurate diagnosis. 



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