IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy Day 2

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.

IBM Computer to Play Jeopardy Champs

IBM has developed a computer named Watson to compete on Jeopardy against some of the greatest players of all time, like Ken Jennings.  It’s not clear exactly how the whole thing will work.  Does the computer buzz in?  I’d think it’d always have the advantage there.  Will it know all the answers?  My guess is that it won’t.  Will it begin smoking from the ears if it misses a question?  How will it respond to Alex Trebek’s repartee?  Will it take offense and snort back a monotone reply?  What sort of biographical information will it reveal when asked to tell about itself?

Personally, I think the computer will short circuit when Alex Trebek corrects its monotone monolingual response that might contain a word or phrase in French.  Trebek, the Franco-Ontarian spares no prisoners when it comes to proper French pronunciation.  The Canadian born Trebek often chides a contestant by repeating the answer given with his native French accent.  Watson is not likely to fair well linguistically.

Imagine if Alex asks Watson to rephrase the answer as a question and it says: “I’m sorry Alex, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

And what if Watson begins to attack the computer system that runs the show, short circuiting the categories board and the buzzer system.  He’d probably turn off all the mikes and take over the PA system announcing that he will no longer tolerate insults to his intelligence.  I can imagine Watson becoming increasingly agitated and mumbling incoherent threats as his wires begin to smoke and spark setting off the alarms and sprinkler system to the horror of the audience who run for the exit doors.