Friday, February 18, 2011

Watson the Super Computer & Jeopardy

Kevin DeYoung reflects on the recently aired competition between two Jeopardy champions and Watson, the IBM super-computer:

I like Jeopardy! anyways, but this week has been especially intriguing. In two games aired over three days Ken Jennings, the 74-game winner, and Brad Rutter, the all-time money champ, go head to head with Watson.

Actually, that’s not true. Watson has no head. He’s a computer–a supercomputer three years in the making whose total cost to IBM may be as much as $1-$2 billion dollars. It’s one those Gary Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, man vs. machine stories that makes the news every few years.

The first game finished last night. Watson trounced the humans by more than $25,000. It wasn’t even close. Round One goes to the machine.

And yet, I’m still left scratching my head at the genius God gave to mankind. Let me explain.

Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter have roughly 3 pounds of gray matter (pink really), enough to fill the palm of your hand. Watson is too big to fit on stage. What you see on t.v. is a monitor, some sort of avatar. The real Watson is comprised of 90 IBM servers enclosed in ten racks. Score one for the humans for being more compact and mobile. Seriously, how is this a fair fight when Watson gets 90 brains working for him offstage?

And consider this: Watson has 16 terabytes of memory, equal to all the information in print at the Library of Congress. And Jennings and Rutter still knew some questions the computer didn’t. Sure, they got smoked (mostly by not ringing in first I surmise), but they didn’t have a million books within their immediate mental reach. I’m amazed they beat a supercomputer on any question whatsoever.

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