IBM's 'Watson' to take on Jeopardy! champs

Nearly 15 years after an IBM machine defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov, the US computer pioneer is rolling out another device to challenge mankind.

Watson, a supercomputer named for IBM founder Thomas Watson, is to take on two human champions of the long-running Jeopardy! television quiz show in two games over three days next week.

Like Kasparov, who lost a six-game match to IBM's "Deep Blue" in 1997, Ken Jennings, who holds the Jeopardy! record of 74 straight wins, and Brad Rutter, winner of $3.25 million on the show, are expected to have their hands full.

In a practice match at IBM Research headquarters in upstate New York last month, Watson came out on top in terms of prize money, although the computer and the two human contestants correctly answered all of the 15 questions.

Jeopardy!, which first aired on US television in 1964, tests a player's knowledge of trivia in a range of categories, from geography to politics to history to sports and entertainment.

In a twist on traditional game play, contestants are provided with answers and need to supply the questions.

During the practice match, for example, one of the clues was: "The film Gigi gave him his signature song 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls.'"

Watson, represented by a large computer monitor, sounded the buzzer a split second ahead of Jennings and Rutter and answered correctly in its artificial voice "Who is Maurice Chevalier?"

A dollar amount is attached to each question and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Players have money deducted for wrong answers.

Watson, which is not connected to the Internet, plays the game by crunching through multiple algorithms at dizzying speed and attaching a percentage score to what it believes is the correct response.

For the Maurice Chevalier question, for example, Watson was 98 percent certain that the name of the French crooner was the right answer.

Developing a supercomputer that can compete with the best human Jeopardy! players involves challenges more complex than those faced by the scientists behind the chess-playing "Deep Blue."

"The thing about chess is that it's fairly straightforward to represent the game in a computer," said Eric Brown, a member of the IBM Research team that has been working on Watson since 2006.

"With chess, it's almost mathematical," Brown told AFP. "You can consider all the possibilities. It's almost a closed set of options."

Jeopardy!, on the other hand, involves the use of natural language, raising a whole host of problems for a computer.

"Questions are expressed in language and with an ability to be asked in an infinite numbers of ways," Brown said, including the use of irony, ambiguity, riddles and puns - not a computer's strong suit.

"The initial approach that people might want to take is to just build a giant database," Brown said. "That approach is just not suitable."

Playing Jeopardy! is also not like searching the Web.

"While they're somewhat related, Google and Watson are solving two different problems," Brown said.

"With Web search, you express your information with a few keywords and then a search engine will bring back 10 or half-a-million Web pages that match what you're looking for.

"But if you're looking for precise information (like with Jeopardy!) you'll have the task of wading through those documents to find the answer that you're looking for," he said.

Watson uses what IBM calls Question Answering technology to tackle Jeopardy! clues, gathering evidence, analysing it and then scoring and ranking the most likely answer.

The winner of the man vs. machine showdown which begins on Monday is to receive $1 million. Second place is worth $300,000 and the third place finisher pockets $200,000.

IBM plans to donate 100 percent of its winnings to charity. Jennings and Rutter plan to give 50 percent of their prize money to charity.

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits