Watson v. Jeopardy

So, you’ve probably seen the ad by now, but let’s talk about Watson, anyway. This super-thinking bad boy is going to square off against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a Jeopardy Battle Royale, which is set to air on PBS in mid-February. The shows have already been taped, and according to someone who witnessed the taping (a guy that was interviewed on the Scientific American Podcast), Round 1 went to none other than the Silicone Valley Slammer.

So, how does a computer pull off such a feat? Well, Watson seems to be successful in that it “accomplishes” tasks that no computer has been able to, like detecting double entendres and other subtle semantic and syntactic nuances in speech. Come to think of it, I can think of a few humans that can’t do that. Next, Watson accesses the world’s most incredible database to come up with what it believes is the correct answer, based on some proprietary algorithm designed to analyze the question. Finally, it answers by actuating a buzzer, just like a real human. So, you can think of the whole process like a voice-activated, legitimate version of Wikipedia that slaps you when it comes up with the answer. Ahh, reductionism.

What will it mean for the future of Jeopardy and humanity if Watson takes all the cheese? Some are afraid that this is for sure a harbinger that a computer-run world (a la The Matrix) is right around the corner. That’s right. That’s how it all starts. First, the computer (which is secretly sentient) starts its world-domination plan by winning several thousand dollars on Jeopardy. Next, it buys…umm…64 more GB of RAM! Watch out, Trebek. Watson is coming for your mother.

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