Watson! Can IBM win at Jeopardy! too?

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By Joshua Ostrer

This Monday, a historically fictional competition, man vs. computer, was made into a reality. At 7 p.m. Monday, round one of a special Jeopardy! took place. Special, that is, because it marks the first time a machine has been a contestant. The game show pitted two longtime Jeopardy! champions, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, against IBM’s supercomputer, Watson.

The Watson computer, named after Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, has been many years in the making. Watson, if successful, is intended in the future to be a valuable asset to both business and doctors. IBM states that they see great opportunity in assisting the medical field in diagnoses in times to come.

Watson is part of a long line if IBM research projects designed to impress the public yet also develop important computational solutions. Before Watson, IBM’s Deep Blue was the first computer to beat the reigning chess world champion. Projects like these showcase both the evolving power of computers and the ability of IBM to develop cutting-edge systems.

In the round on Monday, Watson managed to finish off round one in a tie with Brad Rutter at $5,000 in winnings. In the case of man vs. machine, Ken Jennings felt like he was “representing the human race.” Watson’s performance came as quite the surprise to those who expected it to dominate the human competitors, and it indicates that winning at Jeopardy! isn’t as simple as most expect.

Here at Union, the Computer Science department has held events to watch the competition, as well as discuss Artificial Intelligence issues with the Watson program. Watson did encounter some problems in its first night of competition, reportedly confusing “Jamie Foxx” with “Ludwig van Beethoven.” However, Watson did make an interesting misstep. Following Ken Jenning’s incorrect response of “what is 1920s,” Watson gave the exact same response, exciting IBM engineers that Watson possibly imitated a form of human logic.

This battle between man and machine is not concluded. The contest will continue for a second and third round this Tuesday and Wednesday, as all of IBM, and the public at large watch closely.

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