In a test run of a special battle between an IBM supercomputer named "Watson" and two of the best Jeopardy! players in the world, the computer dominates. The test of the computer is a preview of a televised battle to take place in January pitting two men against one machine. Score so far: Men 0, Computer 1.
IBM claims that Watson is a major advance in artificial intelligence, and if this test run is any indication, the company is speaking the gospel. Watson managed to beat former Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Thursday in its first public test, a short practice round ahead of a million-dollar tournament that will be televised next month in a special series of shows.
Jennings is no lightweight: he won a record 74 consecutive "Jeopardy!" games in 2004 and 2005. Rutter won a record of nearly $3.3 million in prize money on the show.
According to IBM, Watson is powered by 10 racks of IBM servers running Linux. Watson is the result of four years worth of work by IBM researchers around the globe.
"Language is ambiguous; it's contextual; it's implicit," said IBM scientist David Ferrucci, a leader of the Watson team. Sorting out the context -- especially in a game show filled with hints and jokes -- is an enormous job for the computer, which also must analyze how certain it is of an answer and whether it should risk a guess, he said.
The practice round took place on a stage at the IBM research center in Yorktown Heights, 38 miles north of Manhattan. The real contest to be televised Feb. 14-16, will be played at IBM on Friday.
The winner of the match will be awarded $1 million. Second place gets $300,000, third place $200,000. IBM will donate any winnings Watson receives to charity. Jennings and Rutter will donate half of their winnings to charity because humans can actually use money.
During a press event after the test match, the former Jeopardy! champions joked about Watson:
"When Watson's progeny comes back to kill me from the future," Rutter said, "I have my escape route planned just in case."
"I had a friend tell me, 'Remember John Henry, the steel-drivin' man.' And I was like ... 'Remember John Connor!'" Jennings said. "We're gonna take this guy out!"