Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I am dorking out over the Jeopardy! IBM Challenge. I've had it on my calendar for at least a month now and was far too excited to sit down and watch it last night - and tonight. [Though sadly, not tomorrow night.]

I've been thinking about who I want to win: man or machine? The 2human contestants are Jeopardy!'s winningest [it's a word - shut up] players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The machine is Watson. Not understanding much about computer technology, here's what impresses me: Watson is 7years in the making, takes up a whole room, is the equivalent of 2800 powerful computers, and needs 2giant refrigerators to keep from melting down. 

I've decided that I want a human to win. Not in a "Oh no, if the machine's become too smart they will take over the world!" alarmist, science fiction kind of way. Nor out of any desire to see man better something it created, but out of desire to see Watson get questions incorrect. You see, my gut reaction is that the machine should win. Intellectually, I recognize that Watson is sophisticated enough to "understand" the complexities of language that Jeopardy! relies on only because of the years upon years of research that went into him (whoa, personification)... and as such I shouldn't expect that, by default, he should think like a person. However, our lives are so reliant upon machines at this point, and they are a mechanism for providing knowledge (e.g., the internet), that I've just come to associate computers with information. It may not be perfectly logical, but I automatically think that Watson will take the competition.

However, what fun is that? Towards the beginning of yesterday's Jeopardy!, Watson was kicking some butt. Good for him, I guess. But it was only when Watson started to answer incorrectly that I got into it. The dork in me wants to know why. What about that question - be it the content, wording, or anything else - that stumped this super computer? That's the interesting question. Obviously, just by watching, I can't determine that, but I still want to see it. I want to see what "confuses" him. That I find fascinating.

So I guess it's not really about man or machine winning - machine can still win along as it continues to falter along the way.

If you didn't watch last night, I urge you watch tonight. Dork out with me.

End of night 1: Ken - $2000, Brad - $5000, Watson - $5000

End of tournament totals: Ken - $24000, Brad - $21600, Watson - $77147


  1. OMG TOTES WATCHING IT. I love it. I want a human to win too. Ken, specifically. He's not currently meeting my expectations though.

  2. I started watching it last night and Missy made fun of my dorkiness. I too am fascinated by the incorrect answers but also amazed at the speed it gets to an answer. Watson is still not even close to human comprehension but it makes you wonder how amazing our brain is. And that is just the logic aspect. How many more rooms of computers fit into our brain?

    I also like that Watson still has to physically press a button to answer.

  3. Human Brain: 100 petaflops
    IBM Watson: 80 teraflops

    IBM has a long way to go, but the speed at which the information moves between processors is orders of magnitude higher than within the human brain. Plus, Watson isn't using it's brain to regulate sugars and move limbs. There's always this knee-jerk debate that computers will either dominate our future or be subjected to mental and decision regulation. I'm guessing that technology will more likely enhance our intelligence rather than replace it. I'd love to have a symbiotic relationship with Wikipedia.

  4. I just heard Watson won. How close was it?

  5. oh we can always count on Ben...
    I was really interested in watching this and enjoyed the hype... except, I didn't watch it at all. I'm realizing just large the gap is becoming for us and the TV world. I couldn't tell you any specific day or time a show comes on TV, which is maybe a good thing, but also makes me feel so disconnected. Does anyone know where it can be found online? It is not on hulu nor jeopardy.com.