IBM Watson Wins Jeopardy

Last Updated on December 1, 2020 by Sean B

For those that don’t know, Jeopardy is an American TV Game Show in which an answer (or hint) is provided to the contestants, and they are asked to respond with the appropriate question. The Jeopardy Tournament where IBM Watson faced off against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter were some of the most popular episodes of the show, and an IBM video where Watson wins Jeopardy has more than 480,000 views on YouTube. An example, and a small tribute to the show’s host, might be something like the following:

Answer: A Game Show host who recently passed away from Pancreatic Cancer.
Question: Who is Alex Trebek.

The show started in 1984 and has been one of the most popular American TV shows ever. Jeopardy was so popular that the show was spoofed regularly on Saturday Night Live.

Legends of Jeopardy

Anyone can enter the Jeopardy game and try their luck to win the hefty prizes, but little people have been able to rack up the amount of success; actor Ken Jennings and TV show host Brad Rutter have got in this competition. Jennings holds the title for winning the show 74 times, and Rutter is known for winning the biggest prize ever in the history of Jeopardy, a whopping $3.25 million. The abilities of these two legends were put to a test when, in 2011, IBM’s supercomputer by the name of Watson competed against them.

Learn more about IBM Watson

Brad Rutter buzzes in before Ken Jennings and Watson early in the game.

Clash of the Titans: Watson Wins Jeopardy!

Jennings, who is the interim host since the passing of Alex Trebek, and Rutter might have beaten a lot of humans in their appearances in Jeopardy, but this time they faced a totally different opponent. We are talking a room-sized beast of a supercomputer capable of ripping threads at astronomical speeds. The match had a winning prize of $1 million. This bad boy might never have taken part in any official jeopardy contest, but it sure had practiced a lot and had taken part in 100 games against winners of the show to improve its abilities related to the game.

This opponent showed no signs of emotions, no joy of winning, no frustration of being about to lose, and no regret on wrong answers. It did not even sit in the same room as the human contestants and rather remained in a separate room, and its answers were routed to the competition room.

The contest started with consistent correct answers from the computer. He had all the knowledge about Beatles songs, the history of the Olympics, literacy, criminology, and others. He lacked knowledge on some of the contemporary matters but succeeded to maintain a lead of thousands of dollars ahead of Jennings and Rutter.

However, the human contestants were equally formidable in the games. Rutter soon confused the computer with questions about the decades and succeeded to effectively even the lead the computer had created. People who were betting safely on the monstrous computer now started doubting if they were going to win the jackpot by the end of the first match.

By the end of the second episode, the computer had accumulated $25,000 more than the humans and was on the way to victory. Rutter and Jennings were puzzled at this point and feared, rightfully, that they might lose the game to a “virtual” opponent who has no material existence outside of the silicon circuitry.

At the end of the third episode, all the strategies of the humans failed to defeat the computer, and it walked out of the show with a $1 million prize.

Alex Trebek standing with Ken Jennings, Watson, and Brad Rutter.

How did Watson Work?

Watson was not just any other line of code written to mimic human conversation. It was a computer with the size of a room. The supercomputer had ten racks of ten power 750 servers and was kept in a separate room because of the ungodly roar generated by the immense cooling fans of the monstrous machine. At the podium, IBM posted an avatar of their Smarter Planet logo, and there were green and orange lights to indicate a right or wrong answer respectively.

The algorithm IBM developed to make the machine capable of contesting in a quiz is called DeepQA. It is an extensive parallel software program that analyzes natural language input for the content and clues it has. The system consists of pluggable components that can be added to the computer.

A team of 20 researchers worked for three years to develop algorithms powerful enough to weigh the incoming information and process it to come up with an appropriate answer. It involves inspecting the information in the question and then running that information through a number of algorithms to work out the correct response for the question it is presented with.

The data set Watson had to consult to come up with a correct answer consisted of more than 20 million pages, and that was why such enormous processing resources were required for the program to work.

Questions were presented to the bot in form of text instead of voice, but it was programmed to process them in the same way as a human does. The computer analyzed the question, understood it, and then came up with the best possible answer to match the question with the aim of winning as much money as possible. And, God, it was great at doing that. It won a total of $77,147, leaving the champs Jennings and Rutter in the slipstream with winnings under $25,000.

Why IBM Developed Watson

The reason IBM had behind creating Watson was never to win a quiz show. In fact, even before the machine contested in the quiz, IBM was already working on the possibility of developing it into something with business applications.

Watson was developed five years before it appeared in the quiz. IBM periodically puts the machine in the pit with men to spark research in the field of Artificial Intelligence and mathematics. It is known as the Grand Challenge at IBM. In the early 2000s, when Watson was developed, the developers and the president of IBM at that time did not want t it to contest in the Turing Test as that was something ordinary people could not put into perspective. The competition against the masters of a known intelligence competition showed people in a true and understandable way that machines can beat human intelligence.

Ken Jennings' response after being beaten by IBM Watson, 'I for one welcome our new computer overlords.'

In Conclusion

Watson is one of the most capable chatbots to ever be. IBM did not create it with the sole intention of winning the Jeopardy contest. And it was meant to be a commercial product with the whole Jeopardy winning thing as a marketing strategy to show the world what IBM is capable of, and they have done a perfect job there.

One last thought, Alex Trebek was an incredible person and the greatest game show host ever, he will be greatly missed. Please consider donating to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

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