Online game: Can you beat parallel program Watson at Jeopardy?

There’s a lot of buzz in the media today about the news that a computer has beaten the two all-time top players of Jeopardy, the US game show that uses word play and fast reactions to test competitors’ general knowledge and lateral reasoning skills.

The computer is Watson, created by IBM, and it uses a sophisticated parallel program to try to come up with answers to questions. The New York Times published an in-depth report last year, which includes an overview of how the program works. Basically, it explores thousands of different ways to tackle the question in parallel and then ranks the answers according to confidence. The confidence check includes a basic fact check, such as making sure that somebody was alive at the time something happened if the two are implied to be related. If the program has enough confidence in its answer, it will buzz in. It’s a similar approach to the one I mentioned previously which could help increase software reliability by running multiple algorithms and then comparing the results.

The algorithms work by matching words in databases of information, and presumably performing some basic natural language processing to understand the context of some key words. Applications touted for this technology include advising doctors rapidly on the best treatment based on vast databases of medical papers, or providing automated customer service.

The good news is that you don’t have to just read about it: you can try out the technology yourself. The New York Times has a Flash game where you can compete against the software. I’m guessing this is a simulation using Watson’s stored answers, rather than being a Flash interface to the real computer. But it still gives some insight into the software’s strengths and weaknesses. Good luck!

6 Responses

  1. [...] my recent posting on the Watson supercomputer beating the two all-time top players of Jeopardy, I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve come [...]

  2. [...] thought I’d follow up on recent postings about artificial intelligence (AI) – Watson supercomputer beats game show contestants and the growth of artificial intelligence – by looking at the topic of parallel programming [...]

  3. There’s a book about all of this! Check out Stephen Baker’s FINAL JEOPARDY: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything. It’ll be in stores Feb 17 – but you can get an eBook now, online. Check out this piece on AllThingsD about it: http://tinyurl.com/4ouh4je.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Eliza (great name for somebody posting on a thread about AI). I’m particularly interested in the business model of publishing the book before the event’s even happened, and then updating it afterwards. It’s going to be an exciting game and potentially a landmark event, and it’s good that there’s a mainstream document of it being created in a book.

  5. [...] his ‘Theory of the Learnable’ has contributed to the development and creation of machines like Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy champion. His work has also had enormous influence on natural language processing, handwriting recognition [...]

  6. [...] domain for an answer. One such “intelligent agent” with huge backend databases is the Watson supercomputer . Siri ushers a brave new world where agents behave in an engaging and intelligent [...]

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