IBM's Watson victorious in Jeopardy

Ken Jennings foreshadowed the inevitable with his final Jeopardy answer. The answer: Bram Stoker. The subtext: "I for one welcome our new computer overlords."

This is a guest post from Larry Dignan. You can follow Larry on the ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

IBM's Watson computer ultimately proved to be too much for the humans in Jeopardy.

Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the most successful players in Jeopardy, put up a spirited fight, but ultimately couldn't hang. Jennings foreshadowed the inevitable with his final Jeopardy answer. The answer: Bram Stoker. The subtext: "I for one welcome our new computer overlords."

The two day totals highlighted the extent of the victory for Watson.

  • IBM's Watson had $77,147 at the end of two days.
  • Jennings had $24,000.
  • Rutter rounded out the festivities with $21,600.

Heading into the final Jeopardy round it appeared that Jennings had some momentum. But then Watson won a flurry of questions that appeared to suck the momentum out of Jennings.

The final Jeopardy category was 19th century novelists.

And the answer: William Wilkinson's "An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia" inspired this author's most famous novel.

The question -- all three contestants got right -- was Who is Bram Stoker? The ever-precise Watson wagered $17,973.

In the end, Watson was a natural on Jeopardy. It was even likeable with his quirks -- very precise wagers and a robotic voice. If Watson is ultimately our computer overlord he at least seems jovial.

More about IBM's Watson


FIrst of all, congratulations to Watson. I don't want anyone to think that I have underestimated the importance of Watson in terms of parallel processing, real language and artificial intelligence. Kudos to the engineers for developing the capabilities that Watson demonstrated in this competition. And now, for the reality check. IBM went into this competiton with 10 tons of metal silicon and pitted it against 10 pounds of meat. In the final tally, the meat got $45,000 to the metal's $77,000. When you put it in that perspective, it really demonstrates how infantile our technology is when compared to the capabilities of the human brain. To make matters worse though, IBM didn't even play fair. While Jennings and Rutter had to read and/or listen to the clues before preparing their answers, Watson got the questions transmitted electronically into its circuits the instant that they were revealed. IBM was aware of the criticisms prompted by this design. People have repeatedly pointed out that this gives Watson an unfair advantage by allowing "him?" to start working on the answer while the human contestants were still reading the questions. IBM has responded to these criticisms by saying that it was not an advantage, because the humans could actually buzz in before they had an answer, while Watson would only buzz in when he had an answer ready. In their minds, this gave the human competitors as much as 2-3 seconds of extra time to think. Of course, anyone who has ever watched or played Jeopardy knows that buzzing in before you know an answer is a really bad idea. Against champions like Jennings and Rutter, the notion that they would randomly buzz in early is preposterous. They know better. They would not risk losing money on wrong answers just to beat Watson to the buzzer. They too have an algorithm that prevents them from buzzing in before they have a highly probable answer to give. It is called common sense. And champion Jeopardy players are bound to it almost as tightly as Watson is bound to his programming. I designed a little experiment to prove my point. Get out your smart phone and start up your stopwatch app. Now, see how long it takes you to read the following clue and click stop. "How long it takes to read a clue." What is 300-500 milliseconds? Honestly, I expect nerds to know better. Anyone who has ever played Counter-Strike knows that a ping that high is huge disadvantage. And while the game makers try to compensate for varying pings in order to be fair to all competitors, IBM just tried to argue it away. I understand their decision. Personally, I think that they should have spent a couple of extra days writing and OCR or voice recognition plug-in so that Watson would have to actually read and/or hear the questions. It's not like IBM doesn't have any OCR and VR software lying around the databanks to draw upon. It's just that they know that if they made Watson play by the same rules as the human players, he would not have had a chance. More importantly though, I expect nerds to know better. Haven't they ever tried to play Counter-Strike with a 400ms ping?

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