Watson Cleans Up

“I for one welcome our new computer overlords” — Ken Jennings

The contest between IBM’s Watson computer and human champions on Jeopardy! is over, and Watson won, big time.  In the three-day match, Watson ended up with a total of $77,147, Ken Jennings had $24,000, and Brad Rutter finished in third place with $21,000.

(These are not the actual prize amounts.  Watson will receive a $1 million prize, which IBM will donate to charity.  Jennings will receive $300,000, and Rutter $200,000.  Both human contestants will donate half their prize money to charity.)

Despite its very impressive overall performance, Watson did make some funny mistakes.   For example, in a category “US Cities”, the clue given was “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle.”  Both Jennings and Rutter got the correct answer, Chicago; Watson answered “What is Toronto?”  As Dr.Chris Welty of IBM explained in an article at Ars Technica, the error is not so silly as it appears, given the way Jeopardy! categories work.

“If you change the question to ‘This US City’s largest airport…’, Watson gets the right answer,” Welty said during a panel at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Welty pointed out that though categories in Jeopardy seem like they will have a set type of answers, they almost never do, and Watson was taught not to assume they would.

Still, this is real step forward in the quest for more intelligent machines.  One of the promising applications for Watson’s technology is to provide assistance in medical diagnosis.  A report from the Associated Press, via Yahoo!, says that two hospitals, the Columbia University Medical Center, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, have signed up to test the technology, once it is adapted to work in a medical environment.

Update Thursday, 17 February, 18:05 EST

The New York Times also has an article on the match.

One Response to Watson Cleans Up

  1. […] I wrote a number of posts here about IBM’s Watson project, to build a computer system that could compete on the popular TV game show, Jeopardy!.   Now, according to an article at Technology Review, a […]

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