Watson Won!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Language columnist for the New York Times Magazine Ben Zimmer and Stephen Baker, author of Final Jeopardy: Man vs Machine and the Quest to Know Everything talk about how the IBM's super computer won last night on Jeopardy! and what it means when artificial beats human intelligence.


Stephen Baker and Ben Zimmer

Comments [19]

@JT from LI
Some good points, and I am not dismissing the technological triumph, but as per
"MP from Brooklyn
I played against Ken Jennings after he had already won about 50 games and was practically a professional on the buzzer - I knew almost all the answers but couldn't beat him on the buzzer"
I would still take issue with your statement:
"The human contestants have played enough to have mastered the timing for buzzing in."

Feb. 17 2011 12:31 PM
Hal Drellich from Crown Heights

I thought it was rather impressive. Despite the fact that some are simple look-ups, many responses required some interesting processes.
I see great potential in using it to correlate data from clinical studies, trials and other science research. If it's understood that it may not be 'right' 100% of the time, some unimagined correlations may be presented for human evaluation.
Potentially a version of Watson could be available online for queries.

Feb. 17 2011 12:06 PM


excessive focus on watson's surprisingly modest problems with natural language may distract from serious problems with other aspects of it's design and programming.

Feb. 17 2011 11:46 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Of course Watson won, and boringly so. Problems that can be solved simply by going through a list (to make up an example, Rhett's fiery lady love = Scarlett O'Hara) are simple, if you have the info in a data bank.

Feb. 17 2011 11:15 AM

this discussion was a bit embarrassing to listen to as the guests seemed be missing the point of the exercise.

yet watson has more difficulty with idioms, metaphors, etc than it does with other things, but what makes it exceptional is that it actually does surprisingly well with such things for a machine.

yes some of the questions it missed involved such constructs, but IIRC there were also questions with such constructs it got right. there were also questions that it apparently got wrong for other reasons.

playing the game at all requires a facility with natural language that exceeds previous efforts in this area. it brings to mind the old saw about a dog walking on it's hind legs. what's remarkable is not that it's done perfectly, but that it's done at all.

Feb. 17 2011 11:14 AM
JT from LI

Dismissing this as simply a display of faster buzzing is ridiculous considering that the computer still had to decipher the clue and give the correct answer. Human's can prepare an answer based on the category and knowledge of the types of responses they've seen previously. Humans can also take a guess based on the category and only part of the clue or buzz in and then take a second or two to decide on answer. The human contestants have played enough to have mastered the timing for buzzing in.

Feb. 17 2011 11:08 AM
Edward from NJ

How'bout #stumpwatson?

Feb. 17 2011 11:00 AM
Christine Bridges from ny

Glad Watson isn't on all the time as I found him flat and boring. I love jeopardy but probably wouldn't watch if he were a regular!

Feb. 17 2011 10:59 AM
Josh from Brooklyn

I'm less worried Watson will subjugate humanity with its artificial intelligence, and more worried it will be able to buy us with its massive winnings.

Feb. 17 2011 10:58 AM
MP from Brooklyn

If you watched, you would know that the questions that Watson couldn't answer were usually NOT questions that humans couldn't answer.

Feb. 17 2011 10:58 AM

Where Watson could answer, I am betting the humans could also answer - Watson's triumph/win was because the computer could press the buzzer FASTER than the humans

Feb. 17 2011 10:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Probably, the questions Watson can't answer are the same that the smartest humans can't answer either, so what's the difference?

Feb. 17 2011 10:56 AM
JT from LI

You might be correct about it being "just fact recall" if the questions included "It's the color of an apple" or "It's the number between 3 and 5."

Go to any search engine and enter the clue everyone is talking about, "Its largest airport is named for a WWII hero, its second largest for a WWII battle." Let us know if any of them gives the correct answer.

Feb. 17 2011 10:53 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I'm so happy that Watson won, hands down! Humans have had thousands of years of chances, but continue to make a mess of things. It is time for computers and robots to take over things. Humans are too incompetent to properly run this planet anymore. Too dangerous. It's time to turn over the controls to those who what they are doing: the machines!

Feb. 17 2011 10:53 AM
MP from Brooklyn

I played against Ken Jennings after he had already won about 50 games and was practically a professional on the buzzer - I knew almost all the answers but couldn't beat him on the buzzer - I got a kick out of watching the same thing happen to him!

Feb. 17 2011 10:52 AM

Although a pretty clever lead-in... you do realize that the "Watson, come here" is a completely different Watson than the computer on Jeopardy was named after. Thomas J. Watson was President of IBM during its major growth years. Their main research facility is named after him. Thomas A. Watson was an electrician working for Alexander G. Bell and is credited as co-creator of the telephone.

Feb. 17 2011 10:08 AM

i didn't watch. but i would tune in to see a compter host the show. that might be fun

Feb. 17 2011 09:56 AM

agree with jeff
what does this prove. i could win if i had his database. he doesn't understand the questions. some of his answers (i mean questions) were strange and show he's not clear on meaning, just fact recall.

Feb. 17 2011 09:55 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

Of course Watson Won, Humans built It.
Go Humans !

Feb. 17 2011 09:26 AM

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