Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson’s Jeopardy Win is IBM’s Gain

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY - JANUARY 13:  Senior Vic...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeAt 7 pm on February 14th I wasn’t enjoying a nice Valentine’s dinner with my husband. Instead we were both glued to the television as we watched IBM’s latest supercomputer, Watson, play Jeopardy against the champs.

Could Watson win?
I was surely rooting for him.

We saw Watson’s avatar on stage, but the cameras took us behind the curtains to see the hardware behind the avatar; ten IBM Power 750 servers – that’s a whole lot of computing power – all optimized to win the game of Jeopardy.

But while the system was impressive, the real fun was watching what Watson could do. Despite the fact that he was just a computer, it was hard not to like him. Watson was programmed with personality, saying things like, “Let’s finish the category Alex,” and, “I’ll take a guess...” when he wasn’t sure of the answer on the daily double.

While most human players pick a category and run it, Watson’s approach seemed far more random, almost as if he was “fishing” across categories. And Watson did manage to land far more than his share of the daily doubles. Was it just luck? I laughed when I heard Watson bet $6445 dollars or $367 dollars for those daily doubles – surely the result of a complex algorithm and not numbers any human player would have picked.

More often than not, when Watson wanted to answer a question he did, but Watson wasn’t infallible. When Ken Jennings incorrectly answered a question, Watson was unable to “hear” Jennings answer and jumped in second on the trigger with the same incorrect response.

Day one of the tournament ended at “halftime” with Watson in a dead heat with Brad Rutter. That was the closest the games would get. On day two Watson ran away with it in double Jeopardy, but showed some vulnerability once again when he gave the answer “Toronto” to a final Jeopardy question that asked for a US city.

During the second game, Watson seemed to allow his opponents to click in a bit more often, but didn’t let his guard down, going on to win the second game and the championship.

All in all, the tournament was an amazing ninety minute commercial for IBM. There was plenty of time with just two games across the three day tournament for IBM to show its stuff. Dr. John E. Kelly III, IBM’s leader of the research lab where Watson was developed said, “IBM hopes to revolutionize the entire industry.”


It seems IBM has.


Carol Kilgore said...

Go Watson!

Anonymous said...

Why do you refer to Watson as a "him"?

Don Draper wouldn't do that.

Stephen D said...

Three very exciting evenings for my household as I rooted for Watson (It) and my spouse was rooting for the humans - pity them. Some may not be aware that the show was taped in mid-January. IBM has already announced the first commercialization of the technology, in health care as one might expect. Did anyone notice Sam Palmisano, IBM CEO, jumping around in his seat, counting his money.

Anonymous said...

As an IBM retiree who doesn't think much about those 30 years these days, I was surprised to find how much the story grabbed me and how strongly I was rooting for Watson. What fun, especially in days when there is so much trouble on the planet. And fun to good purpose too.

Colette said...

I'm glad everyone liked it as much as I did.

Anonymous -- Why do I call Watson a "him"? Well, he was named after Thomas Watson -- I think the gender identity is a given.

Stephen -- yes, we saw Palmisano. A proud papa for sure.

Anonymous said...

Watson wins and now layoffs at IBM. A hint of the future maybe?

Just as computers and computer driven machinery has replaced many a skilled worker I am sure that at some point (IE, as soon as it becomes cost effective) work currently done by less skilled workers, E.G. customer service phone support, will be replaced by semi intelligent machinery.

Still, as soon as they have a machine to do my job, it can have it, along with all the associated big company BS that goes with it.

Colette said...

Well, we have seen layoffs at IBM for many years before Watson. That said, yes -- it sure would be odd to be turning your job over to a computer.

Anonymous said...

Toll collectors, bank tellers, directory assistance operators... more object lessons in the value of ongoing,advanced education and training.