Trailblazing Watson supercomputer wins at Jeopardy

Posted by Mark Raby

In 1997, an IBM computer known as Deep Blue was able to defeat human chess superstar Garry Kasparov. Today, the computer company is saying it has been able to match the gravity of that accomplishment in an achievement for the 21st century.

Last night, the final episode of Jeopardy's two-game battle was broadcast across the country, in which IBM's supercomputer Watson - which is able to at least partially understand normal human speech - faced off against Jeopardy's greatest players of all time.

Ken Jennings conquered the Jeopardy board 74 times in a row and became a household name, instantly being branded the greatest quiz show player of all time. Brad Rutter also won on Jeopardy, but that was back when contestants were capped at 5 victories. However, he was invited back for tournament after tournament and continued to win every single one. He became the only Jeopardy player to compete in more than 20 matches and never actually lose a single battle - including a tournament match against Jennings. But over the last few days, Watson made them look like total noobs.

After the end of one Jeopardy game, Watson had bested both of them by more than $25,000. The computer was going into last night's battle with quite a head start.

In the final match, Watson didn't completely dominate like it had in the first game. Jennings and Rutter seemed to finally get the timing of the buzzer down to beat Watson a handful of times, but the computer still took quite a vast majority of the clues.

Jennings actually showed quite a performance in the first round, hitting the Daily Double, wagering everything and getting a correct response. In Double Jeopardy, he continued to hold his own and was just one clue away from getting a no-brainer Daily Double there, but Watson sneaked in and took it right from under Jennings's nose. From there, the game was essentially sealed up.

In the end, Watson just had too much of a lead from yesterday's game. Jennings actually proved a formidable competitor yesterday, and ended up just marginally below Watson for that game's score. However, when combined with yesterday's score, Watson had about three times what Jennings had.

In the end, Watson won with a two-game score of more than $75,000. In second place, Jennings was far behind at $24,000 - though he could have easily gone as high as $40,000, but Jennings played it safe in last night's Final Jeopardy to lock in a second place finish. Rutter was in the rear at around $20,000.

Not everyone is impressed. Cornell University professor Trevor Pinch released a quote, saying, "It is the informal, tacit, embodied knowledge that is the hardest for computers to grasp, but it is often such knowledge that is most crucial to our lives. Providing answers to questions limited to around 25 words is not the same as dealing with real problems of an emotionally distraught passenger in an open system where there may not be a unique answer."

Regardless, Watson has already done some good in the world. Since it won the special Jeopardy purse of $1,000,000, IBM will be donating the winnings to charity. Jennings won $300,000 for finishing in second place and Rutter nabs $200,000. Both humans pledged to donate half of their winnings to charity.