Thursday, February 17, 2011

Computer beats man in Jeopardy

IBM recently completed an exciting project. Build a computer that can think like a human being. While computers have been used for their raw computing power for decades and can crunch the billions of combinations required to excel at chess, this was a new challenge: How can you get computers to comprehend the nuances involved with human speech? Things like humor, puns, and drawing lines between two completely different sets of information. The computer was named Watson after IBM's founder. The medium chosen was the game show: Jeopardy. The human opponents: the top two Jeopardy winners in history.

IBM took 100 Power 7 computers, linked them together and added 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming 4 terabytes of hard disk storage and complex programming to enable it to draw conclusions from the data presented in the Jeopardy answer to derive the correct question. The computer was, just like the human contestants, not hooked up to the Internet. To make it interesting for the viewer, we were presented with a bar graph showing the top three questions the computer came up with, along with their confidence level and a line representing the computer's buzz-in threshold.

The game was set up like all Jeopardy tournaments with the winnings from two consecutive games totalling up to the winner of the tournament. The first half of the first game of Jeopardy was pretty even with the computer making some interesting mistakes and seeming to lose confidence while the humans picked up confidence and finished in a tie with Watson. But Double Jeoparady was a different matter when the computer almost ran the board, finishing with over $36,000 compared to the five and ten thousand won by the humans.

Watson made an interesting mistake on final Jeopardy, naming Toronto as a U.S. City, thrilling the Candaian host but only losing $947 from its total winnings. The second game went similar to the first with Jeopardy being pretty even but the Double Jeopardy round being a blowout by the computer. They all guessed the final Jeopardy question right and the computer won convincingly. Several interesting points came out of the show:
  • Reaction time favored the computer. You can see both humans trying to buzz in as they both knew the answers to the questions but mostly being beat out by the computer's faster reaction time.
  • Wrong answers by Watson were often bizarre, showing the weird way computers draw lines between clues. So were the second and third choices offered.
  • Brad needs to stop weaving around his upper body when on stage. It is distracting.
  • Watson made some strange bets on his Daily Double, probably using his computing power to run all the probablities involved.
  • The computer should listen to his opponent's answers before repeating the same wrong answer.
All in all it was quite enjoyable and shows the way forward to the day when we can talk to our computers and get answers rather than the complicated way we now have to search.

My only sorrow was in the name. 'Watson' rather than 'HAL'.

Watch the video from the IBM site below:

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