I mentioned Watson, IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer, back in February. But the details were a little thin back then. Now, the New York Times Magazine has a full profile of Watson, and it sounds like this thing is a monster. IBM has been staging "live" games and plans to pit Watson against former TV champions later this year (note to TV people: please televise this). As Andy Baio (of Waxy.org) said: "Ken Jennings, you're our only hope!" Here's a taste:
Over the rest of the day, Watson went on a tear, winning four of six games. It displayed remarkable facility with cultural trivia ("This action flick starring Roy Scheider in a high-tech police helicopter was also briefly a TV series" — "What is "˜Blue Thunder'?"), science ("The greyhound originated more than 5,000 years ago in this African country, where it was used to hunt gazelles" — "What is Egypt?") and sophisticated wordplay ("Classic candy bar that's a female Supreme Court justice" — "What is Baby Ruth Ginsburg?").
By the end of the day, the seven human contestants were impressed, and even slightly unnerved, by Watson. Several made references to Skynet, the computer system in the "Terminator" movies that achieves consciousness and decides humanity should be destroyed. "My husband and I talked about what my role in this was," Samantha Boardman, a graduate student, told me jokingly. "Was I the thing that was going to help the A.I. become aware of itself?" She had distinguished herself with her swift responses to the "Rhyme Time" puzzles in one of her games, winning nearly all of them before Watson could figure out the clues, but it didn't help. The computer still beat her three times. In one game, she finished with no money.
"He plays to win," Boardman said, shaking her head. "He's really not messing around!" Like most of the contestants, she had started calling Watson "he."
The Times piece also has an interesting interactive feature in which you can play a Jeopardy-ish game (minus some of the strict timing rules and dollar values) against Watson. It's impressive, and a little scary. I gave up after playing for a few minutes, preferring to leave the score tied instead of sitting through my inevitable defeat at the hands (sorry, robo-pincers) of Watson.
Read the rest for an in-depth look at Watson, our new Jeopardy Overlord.