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This. Is. Jeopardy!

Updated on March 13, 2015

This hub was added to on March 13, 2015

Supercomputer Watson competes against Ken Jennings (L) and Brad Rutter during a Jeopardy! game in Feb. 2011
Supercomputer Watson competes against Ken Jennings (L) and Brad Rutter during a Jeopardy! game in Feb. 2011 | Source


I’ll take Man vs. Machine for $2,000, Alex.

Clue: This man broke the record for the most consecutive games played by winning 74 games in a row during the 2004-2005 season, resulting in winnings of more than $2.5 million.

A: Who is Ken Jennings?

Clue: This man won $3,255,102 in cash, the highest cumulative amount by a single “Jeopardy!” player.

A: Who is Brad Rutter?

Clue: This supercomputer was built by a team of IBM scientists and rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.

A: What is Watson?

Man vs. Machine

If you’re one of the 9 million daily viewers of this long-running game show, you already knew the answers to those Jeopardy!-style questions and have February 14, 15, and 16, 2011 circled on your calendar.

February 14 – “for the love of Jeopardy!” – marks the beginning of a unique three-day contest that pits super-champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter against super-computer Watson.

Up until now, computers could answer simple fact-based questions such as “What is the capitol of Illinois?” but nothing that required shades of distinction found in human language. IBM has changed that with the introduction of Watson, its Question Answering (QA) computing system with over 2,800 Power7 processing cores. Blogger Craig Rhinehart believes QA is the next step beyond search engines such as Google.

QA? Algorithms? Huh?

Search engines such as Google and Bing follow algorithms (strict rules and sequences of steps) to bring in search results. Each search engine has its own algorithm, one of the reasons why you may get different results with different search engines. When you type terms into a search box, the search engine scans thousands of Internet pages to bring you results that best match your terms, often based on page ranking and popularity.

People typically use “natural language” in search engines. That is, we type in something like “Who won the most money playing Jeopardy games” rather than a Boolean string such as “Jeopardy” AND “winner” AND “money”. Natural language is nuanced language with puns, metaphors and homonyms. It’s what humans use, not computers.

“Language is ambiguous; it's contextual; it’s implicit," said IBM scientist David Ferrucci, a leader of the Watson team. Sorting out the context — especially in a game show filled with hints and jokes — is an enormous job for the computer, which also must analyze how certain it is of an answer and whether it should risk a guess.

Watson will use QA technology. QA involves a number of steps. The first is to try to understand the question to determine what is being asked. The next step is to analyze a wide variety of content to find reasonable answers. In the final step, QA assesses the relative likelihood that the found answers are correct, based on the evidence at hand.All of this in just a matter of seconds.

Alex Trebeck, host of the long-running game show Jeopardy!
Alex Trebeck, host of the long-running game show Jeopardy!

The showdown

To prepare for the contest, IBM researchers stuffed Watson with 15 terabytes of information from books, dictionaries, thesauri, small collections of documents, newswire reports, the Internet…. Then they wrote the algorithms Watson will use to sort through it all.

Watson will use more than a hundred algorithms at the same time to analyze a question in multiple ways, generating hundreds of possible solutions. Then another set of algorithms will rank the answers according to plausibility (remember the ranking in a search engine?). So if a bunch of algorithms come up with the same answer, odds are that’s the correct answer.

How fast is Watson? This supercomputer is able to answer questions in about 3 seconds. On one day of testing against Jeopardy! Champions in early 2010, Watson won four out of six games. Jeopardy Champions hit the buzzer first about 50% of the time and got 85% to 95% of the answers correct.

And in a January 13 test, Watson won hands down, $4,400, $1,000 more than Jennings and almost four times as much as Rutter.

Watson, Jennings and Rutter will be competing for $1 million. IBM will donate 100% of Watson’s winnings to charity, while Rutter and Jennings said they each will donate 50% of their prizes.

And now the Final Jeopardy! round

Clue: What is the most anticipated and talked-about contest between man and machine in recent memory?

A: What is Watson v. Jennings v. Rutter?

Have you ever watched Jeopardy! ?

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Have you ever tried to be a contestant on Jeopardy! ?

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    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 7 years ago from Illinois

      Manny, thanks for your comment. I love watching Jeopardy so I'm really looking forward to seeing how these two contestants fare against Watson.

    • mannyrolando profile image

      mannyrolando 7 years ago

      Thanks for this information... I had heard a little something about this coming up challenge with "watson" and now feel better informed... I'm actually looking forward to Feb 14,15,16... it should be very interesting! Thanks!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 7 years ago from Michigan

      Very cool hub! I loved the way that you presented the info. It is a very clear explanation and informative. Great job!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Danette, Great explanation about how Watson was created in terms that even I can understand, LOL It will be an exciting series. I caught a preview and I cannot even imagine how challenging this game is going to be. Thanks for sharing. I now have it marked on my calendar!!! Voted it up, 'awesome' and useful. :)