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IBM Television Science Technology

Jeopardy-Playing Supercomputer Beats Humans 220

An anonymous reader writes "Ok, this was just a practice round. But in a short demonstration today IBM's Jeopardy-playing supercomputer, a whiz by the name of Watson, thoroughly bested two talented human contestants. IBM has been working on this artificial intelligence project for years to prove that a computer can be programmed to understand conversational speech and wordplay. In today's demo, Watson seems to have proved the point: it started out on a roll in the category 'Chicks Dig Me,' about women and archaeology. The real man versus machine face-off (in which the same contestants compete for a $1 million prize) will be taped tomorrow, and aired in February."
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Jeopardy-Playing Supercomputer Beats Humans

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  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @03:54PM (#34866830)

    I worked Comcast call center for a while in '09. No scripts at all, when I started work and asked for something to follow, to figure out what I was expected to say, I was told with a smile "we don't do any scripts here, good luck!".

    The only guideline I had was "Get their name and phone number, don't trust the system to give you an accurate phone number."

  • by Faizdog ( 243703 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @03:56PM (#34866864)

    So my neighbor works at the IBM facility where this is taking place, but in a completely unrelated function(it's a huge complex with a lot of people). He said that everyone is taking a forced day off on Friday when they will be taping the actual show. There's only going to be a small amount of the very top IBM brass there (supposedly even the head of this facility won't be allowed in). And that this is a HUGE secrecy issue (I'm guessing so that the results aren't leaked before the broadcast date).

    My neighbor works with semiconductors and so works with a lot of dangerous chemicals and stuff. According to him, they've all been told to make sure that all their hazardous materials have been safely stored, and that (I have trouble believing this) even the IBM emergency response/hazmat teams have been told that they aren't allowed onsite and not to respond to any alarms that may be issued. That's a fairly dangerous decision if true, I'm doubtful but my neighbor stands by his statement.

    Anyhoo, this is a pretty big deal apparently. More so from the Jeapordy people's end I'd guess since I don't think IBM has anything related to this project that they'd be that paranoid about keeping secret.

  • by SeattleGameboy ( 641456 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @03:58PM (#34866888) Journal
    In the article, they mention that the computer gets the question as text. Does anyone know exactly when the computer receives the question? Does it receive when the human host starts talking or when the human host completes the question? If it is when the host starts speaking, the computer is getting at least several second head-start on the humans.
  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @04:03PM (#34867000) Homepage Journal

    maybe you should RTFA.

    the unique challenges it poses to its contestants: the breadth of topics; the puns, metaphors, and slang in the questions; the speed it takes to buzz and answer.

    Speech processing that can deal with the context heavy language of Jeopardy is a pretty big test and I think means we're just a little bit closer to a general purpose natural language speech recognition system.

  • by coinreturn ( 617535 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @04:09PM (#34867104)
    Actually, it doesn't do any speech processing - it does text processing - a HUGE difference. This is a shortcoming in my opinion. It should have to process Alex's voice, not clear text, though I guess it could do OCR on the screen instead. I bet they didn't have any Audio or Video Daily Doubles. In the show, audio and video clues are not uncommon.
  • by Bigbutt ( 65939 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @04:55PM (#34867848) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like a lame Shadowrun mission.

    GM: You discover that a big hush-hush project is underway Friday.

    Street Sam: *rolls dice* 15 successes

    GM: A little tidbit from the 'net. Emergency teams have been told not to respond to any alarms.

    Street Sam: Excellent. A cakewalk. I could do this in my sleep.


  • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @05:09PM (#34868088) Homepage

    In the article, they mention that the computer gets the question as text. Does anyone know exactly when the computer receives the question? Does it receive when the human host starts talking or when the human host completes the question? If it is when the host starts speaking, the computer is getting at least several second head-start on the humans.

    It shouldn't matter much, because Jeopardy's rules lock the buzzers out until Alex has finished reading the question - and that lock-out period is determined by a human producer, who sits at a table off-camera, listening to Alex, and who has a button of her own that enables the buzzers.

    Should a contestant try to "buzz in" before the producer pushes that button, his/her/its buzzer is locked out for three seconds - and any attempt to buzz in before that penalty period expires locks your buzzer out for an additional three seconds.

    So, yeah, Watson may get to begin parsing the whole question a little early, but, typically, the human contestants get to begin working on it while Alex is still in the process of reading it, too - they just have to anticipate how it will end.

    Given the speed of silicon vs. wetware, I agree that it will make a difference - but the real question is whether Watson has to determine that the buzzer is enabled by use of a light sensor (human contestants are notified by a ring of lights around the game board - which home viewers never get to see), or whether it gets notified electronically when the enable switch is activated. I say that, because, at least in my own experience, the ability properly to time the use of your buzzer is an enormous factor in whether you'll do well as a contestant or not.

    When I was in the contestant pool in 1991, during the taping of the episode before I was chosen to compete, a four-time winner who was just a monster on the buzzer went up against two newbies. One of them, a little man from New Jersey, obviously became more and more frustrated as the game progressed, when he was unable to buzz in against the Monster, who completely dominated the game (the Monster was a word processor from New Mexico who played videogames as a hobby, so it wasn't surprising that his timing with the buzzer was extra-super good to begin with - and he'd had the non-trivial advantage of four previous games in which to hone his timing). Twice during Double Jeopardy, the New Mexico Monster declined to buzz in, which permitted the little man from New Jersey to do so. Both times, the question was a difficult and obscure one, and both times the little man from New Jersey failed to supply the correct answer, so, when Final Jeopardy came around, there was an empty podium where the little man from New Jersey had been, and, predictably, the Monster became a five-time champion.

    Boy, was I glad I didn't have to go up against HIM.

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