Jeopardy contestants to face IBM super computer

1:16 PM, Feb 14, 2011   |    comments
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CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter amassed millions on Jeopardy as they beat contestant after contestant and now the two will return to the game show to face not only each other, but a little known computer that's garnering a lot of attention.

The IBM super computer named Watson is designed specifically to beat the super players.

It took four years to build and this will be unlike any man versus machine competition that's come before it.

"What we've done with this Watson system is we have created a computer system which has the ability to understand natural human language which is a very difficult thing for a computer to do," said IBM Research Center's Dr. John Kelly.

IBM workers fed Watson dictionaries, encyclopedias and nearly anything else they could get their hands on and 200 million pages of content later, Watson was made to win and to do so it will play the best.

Rutter earned $3 million on Jeopardy and nobody ever beat him.  Jennings won 74 games in a row before his first loss, and at least one of them thinks taking the human element out of the game could be an advantage for the computer.

"Watson's not going to be intimidated, he's never going to be flustered no matter how many he gets wrong you know if he's down by a lot," described contestant Ken Jennings. "If me or Brad is running off a good streak it doesn't care you know it's terminator, it just keeps coming and that's something that I've relied on before is trying to end the game early by intimidating contestants and that's not going to work."

While contestants may need to alter their game show strategy, on a public platform like Jeopardy, Watson could very well alter how we think about computers.

"Every week we see advances to get us closer to our goal of building a machine that computes like humans or does something better than a human does," said the University of St. Thomas professor Dr. Tom Sturm. 

"I suppose for some people it's just a gee whiz moment, for other people it might be a wake-up call to say hey these computers are getting really smart is that of concern to us?  There will come a time maybe not in my lifetime but in my student's lifetime when the capacity of the computer will exceed the capacity of the human mind."

Is it possible for a television game show gimmick to potentially spark a philosophical debate, only if Watson beats its human competition.

"I'm not sure that the match is going to prove anything, what it will do is stimulate the debate about who is smarter man versus machine, man or machine," said Jeopardy's Harry Friedman. "And then the question really becomes what is smart what does that really mean?"

You can catch Jeopardy's man versus machine competition starting Monday, February 14th at 4:30 on KARE 11.  Two more shows will follow on Tuesday, Feb. 15th and Wednesday, Feb. 16th at 4:30. 

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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