After two days of competition on Jeopardy, two former champions badly trail Watson, the IBM supercomputer. Amazingly, Watson leads by over $20,000 despite missing the Final Jeopardy question the champions correctly answered. And get this: the question was so easy that even I got it right; and usually when I play along l wind up with a negative score.
Is it possible that I’m smarter than Watson? Possibly, and all humans too, because we can do something a computer can’t – connect to each other by language and shared experience. For the record, here’s the Final Jeopardy question Watson flubbed: What U.S. city has an airport named after a WWII hero and a WWII battle? Watson answered, “Toronto”. Most people of modest intelligence, even a fifth grader, would know that Toronto is not a U.S. city. And anyone who has ever flown domestically would surely know that Chicago has two major airports, one named after a person – O’Hare, and the other after a famous war battle, Midway. But not Watson. Watson is a baby. It has never traveled. It has never had the frustrating experience of lost luggage or a canceled flight.
Watson may be a bit naive too and may not have been aware that it was leading Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two formidable challengers by more than $30,000 going into Final Jeopardy. Had it known, it might not have wagered anything at all, instead of the seemingly random $947 it did risk and lose.
Watson will win the tournament, largely because it seems to have a built in speed advantage and can buzz in faster than the others. I would wager that almost all of the questions it answered correctly, Ken and Brad knew too. And significantly, the questions it did not attempt to answer, Ken or Brad correctly answered. Not to take anything away from its creators at IBM – Watson is an amazing machine with the analytical powers that could one day cure cancer, but come on, Toronto???? I sure wouldn’t trust it to give me directions.