Did anybody really think the humans were going to beat IBM’s Supercomputer, Watson, in a battle of wits? I sure didn’t. No matter how smart the famously previous Jeopardy! Champions Brad Rutter or Ken Jennings thought they were, they were no match for the smarts of a cluster of hard drives, processors and the occasional wrong answer of IBMS latest creation. With a strong third day of playing and a staggering bid on Final Jeopardy, Wednesday night’s game ended with Watson raking in a whopping $77,147. Runners up Jennings ($24,000 total) and Brad Rutter ($21,600) were clearly outmatched.
For crushing its human rivals, Watson won a total prize of $1 million, which IBM has said will go to the charities World Vision and World Community Grid. Jennings and Rutter each got $300,000 and $200,000 respectively, half of which each said they would be donating to charities.
Rounds 1 and 2 in Jeopardy‘s Man vs. Machine stunt delivered the show’s biggest rating in years. Monday’s episode had an 8.7 household rating, while Tuesday’s numbers climbed to a 9.5. That’s the best Jeopardy! performance in nearly six years.
Now that the competition is over, I can’t help but wonder if Watson might have had an unfair advantage. While the other contestants must listen to host Alex Trebek read the clues, in their entirety, Watson had them electronically sent, starting the thought process a step ahead of the human competitors. Also, Watson did not have to perform the manual action of clicking a button to ring in. Could a human really click a button faster than a machine can electronically ring in? I wonder if any measures were taken to level that playing field. Nevertheless, Watson’s ability to verbalize a correct response from natural human wording and compete in the natural flow of a human game show is more than impressive, it was absolutely amazing.
Remember back in 1997 when IBM's chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue famously beat then world champion Garry Kasparov in a highly publicized match? The event was symbolic in that it showed that computers could outsmart humans at a game once considered too intellectually challenging for a machine to master. Even so, chess is a game with well-defined rules and limits. Fast forward 14 years and the wait is over. After months of hype, last night it was Man versus Machine on Jeopardy!, as IBM’s “Watson” supercomputer took on the greatest champions in the game show’s history, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
Watson -- named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson -- is not just a souped up desktop PC. Instead, it’s powerful array of computers running on IBM’s POWER7 processors provide the lightning-quick response time and growing parade of trivial information. IBM has revealed that the Artificial Intelligence program is housed in a cluster of 90 IBM Power 750 servers, occupying 10 racks, which is the part of the machine you see on the show. There are 2,880 POWER7 processor cores in all — spread across 3.5 GHz POWER7 octo-core CPUs — and 16TB of RAM. Whoa, slow down, what does that mean? In this language we call English...this is one HUGE, super-fast computer.
So what happened in round 1 of the Man versus Machine Challenge? At the end of the first round, Rutter and Watson stand tied at $5,000 while Jennings trails with just $2,000. An early success for the machine, though not a perfect performance. In simulation games, Watson has mopped the floor with many winning Jeopardy contestants and a number of journalists. Round two is tonight at 6pm on CBS with the finale being on Wednesday.
So who will win? IBM is clearly very confident about its prospects. The Watson team has a wealth of information about Rutter and Jennings and how they play the game, and can fine-tune the supercomputer to best take advantage of their tendencies. Cheating? Maybe…we’ll just have to wait and find out who’s smarter.