It's not too different than those old sci-fi movies that depicted man against machine -- but it's far less violent. This week, Jeopardy is hosting man -- all-time Jeopardy champion Brad Rutter -- against machine, IBM's Watson supercomputer.
After round one, Watson was tied with Rutter. The first of three episodes aired Monday. Watson and Rutter both racked up $5,000 in earnings. Meanwhile, Ken Jennings, another successful Jeopardy winner from the past, was in third place with $2,000.
"Watson consists of over 2,800 POWER750 chips, sitting in some five separate racks on two different units. Linking them all together, you create a deep analytics engine that houses over 15 trillion bytes," said Todd Watson, a social-media and marketing manager at IBM. "But, [host Alex] Trebek explained in his continuing setup, Watson would have to 'stand on his own' and rely on the knowledge that was stored in his memory, and that he couldn't be connected to the Internet to look anything else up during the match."
Over the past four years, a team of IBM scientists set out to accomplish a grand challenge -- build a computing system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. Watson is also competing Tuesday and Wednesday nights on Jeopardy. Jeopardy is the ultimate test for Watson because the game's clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other complexities in which humans excel and computers traditionally do not.
According to IBM, Watson's ability to understand the meaning and context of human language, and rapidly process information to find precise answers to complex questions, holds enormous potential to transform how computers help people accomplish tasks in business and in their personal lives.
IBM expects Watson to enable people to rapidly find specific answers to complex questions. Big Blue said the technology could be applied in areas such as healthcare, to accurately diagnose patients. It also could be used to improve online self-service help desks, provide tourists and citizens with specific information, offer prompt customer support via phone, and much more.
IBM's Investor Nudge
"Watson humanizes computers. This shows that increasingly computers can function and reach more complex decisions in a dynamic environment, and it's yet one more step toward artificial intelligence," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"It provides yet another increasing window into a future where computers will in fact be able to do more than calculate and give answers to discreet questions. They will actually be able to anticipate and respond to the world and the people around them. It is one of those evolutionary moments as we watch the computer begin to grow into what it will eventually become."
From IBM's perspective, Enderle said, it's all about staying on the radar screen of investors. IBM doesn't make PCs anymore and the company's brand is not represented in the consumer market. These kinds of events are to remind investors that IBM is at the forefront of a number of technology areas.