Machine bested man yesterday, as International Business Machines Corp.’s computer beat two former “Jeopardy!” champions at the TV quiz show.
“Watson,” IBM’s computer named after its founder Thomas J. Watson, finished the three-day tournament with $77,147. Ken Jennings came in second with $24,000, followed by Brad Rutter with $21,600.
With a $25,000 lead going into the final match, Watson doubled his advantage by answering questions on subjects from “The Simpsons” to Bram Stoker accurately. The win gives IBM a highly publicized victory in artificial intelligence -- and a boost as it moves to market the technology to its corporate customers.
“Machines are evolving with breathtaking speed,” said Paul Saffo, managing director at investment adviser Discern Analytics in San Francisco. “We don’t have artificial intelligence that can go mano a mano with humans on general things, but this technology seems to be headed that way.”
IBM built Watson to tackle a challenge in artificial intelligence: making a machine that could understand natural human language, as opposed to the keyword searches used in the search engines of Google Inc. or Microsoft Corp. IBM wanted the effort to have real-world applications. “Jeopardy,” with its word plays, innuendos and penalties for inaccuracy, proved a good test.
Jennings and Rutter
Watson faced two of the best-known players in the show’s history. Jennings, who won 74 straight games in 2004, holds the record for number of victories, while Rutter had pulled in more money than any player on Jeopardy and beat Jennings in a tournament in 2005.
Going into yesterday’s final game, Watson led with $35,734, with Rutter at $10,400 and Jennings at $4,800. The first game was played over the first two days of the tournament, which was broadcast from IBM’s lab in Yorktown Heights, New York.
Watson, who appears on film as a round avatar on a screen, has a custom-made database created from journals, newspapers and other resources. The computer received questions through typed entries at the same time as host Alex Trebek read them out loud. It scanned the database with algorithms and calculated its degree of confidence in an answer. If its confidence crossed a certain threshold, a mechanical thumb buzzed in and Watson spoke the answer.
Mistakes: Toronto, The New Yorker
The computer made some gaffes. In the first round, it repeated an incorrect answer Jennings had given moments before. In the second day’s Final Jeopardy, the last round of each game that often involves word play, Watson identified Toronto as a U.S. city. Its answer was followed by question marks, indicating how unsure it was of its answer.
In yesterday’s match, Watson missed a Daily Double, which lets contestants wager as much money as they want. The clue asked what work reviewed by The New Yorker in 1959 praised its brevity and clarity. Watson, which had bet more than $2,000, answered Dorothy Parker, missing the correct response: “The Elements of Style.”
The computer was successful on topics from pop culture to literature. When Trebek queried about a Fox show featuring characters named Itchy and Scratchy, Watson responded “The Simpsons,” the correct answer.
The machine also redeemed itself in the second Final Jeopardy, with a clue of William Wilkinson’s “An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia” inspired this author’s most famous novel.
Watson, along with Jennings and Rutter, gave the correct answer: Who is Bram Stoker?
IBM, which spends about $6 billion annually on research and development, invested four years developing the technology, with 25 scientists focused on the challenge. Trebek said he saw a researcher crying before the competition, which was taped last month.
“There’s tremendous pressure on the IBM scientists,” Trebek said in an interview last week. “The pressure they had put on themselves. They’re the ones who decided to try and develop a computer system that can play ‘Jeopardy.’”
The project built on IBM’s work in artificial intelligence, including the Deep Blue supercomputer that defeated world champion Garry Kasparov in a 1997 match. IBM, the world’s largest computer-services provider, decided to try another challenge that would pique the public’s interest -- and this time with commercial applications.
The machine has generated interest from businesses in various sectors, especially customer support and health care, Dave Ferrucci, IBM’s lead scientist on the project, said in an interview last year. The computer runs on IBM’s Power 7 server system.
“The Holy Grail here is to create a technology that can understand what you’re asking, the way you’re asking it,” he said. “People want to do more with all the content we have.”
Watson won $1 million for first place. Jennings and Rutter won $300,000 and $200,000, respectively. IBM will donate all its winnings to charity, while Rutter and Jennings plan to give away half.
IBM rose 84 cents to $164.24 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 12 percent this year.