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IBM’s “Watson” Computer Competing On Jeopardy

By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV
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IBM's Watson computer will compete against the two greatest Jeopardy champions beginning Monday. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)

IBM’s Watson computer will compete against the two greatest Jeopardy champions beginning Monday. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)

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CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – The two biggest winners ever to appear on Jeopardy have their work cut out for them this week. Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter will go up against Watson – a supercomputer designed by IBM for one task: to answer questions.

Everything Watson “knows” is stored in its massive database that has been crammed with millions of documents. In a way, it is meant to mimic what’s in the human brain. Watson is not connected to the Internet.

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports at 5 p.m.

During the game, the clue is given to Watson via text at the exact same time that his human counterparts hear it. Watson will take in the clue, come up with tens of thousands of potential answers, compare them against each other, test them, and then rank them all, ultimately coming up with one it thinks is the best. Then, it will buzz in.

“It plays an amazing game,” says MIT professor Boris Katz, whose research and work decades ago in question-answering technology forms the foundation of what IBM engineers used to make Watson.

But, cautions Katz, “the Watson team did not build, quote unquote, a machine that thinks like us. They did not solve the problem of understanding human intelligence.”

That is a far more complex matter, and one Katz would like to explore. Watson’s “brute force” method of answering complex questions is not the way a human mind does it. Crack that code, Katz says, and we can “build a machine that understands the world in the same way, so that you could build an assistant that understands events in the world and integrates it all together and helps you in your everyday life.”

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports at 6 p.m.

For now, Watson will just play games. Which is plenty.

MIT senior Vibin Kundukulam went up against the machine last summer. Kundukulam was a contestant on the all-human version of Jeopardy in 2008 and was asked to return to IBM’s facilities in 2010 to give Watson a test. He beat the computer once, and the computer beat him.

“The time I beat Watson, he was leading going into Final Jeopardy and he bet all his money and got the answer completely wrong,” explains Kundukulam. “Now I’d imagine it’s probably much better because it’s learned from how it played against us, the former Jeopardy contestants.”

Watson will compete on Jeopardy on Monday through Wednesday on WBZ-TV at 7:30 p.m.

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