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Why Watson Will (or Won't) Beat Jeopardy's Kings

Face-off airs tonight with Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2011 11:43 AM CST
Why Watson Will (or Won't) Beat Jeopardy's Kings
In this undated publicity image released by Jeopardy Productions, Inc., host Alex Trebek, left, poses with contestants Ken Jennings, center, and Brad Rutter and a computer named Watson.   (AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

(Newser) – Tonight, IBM’s Watson computer will go head-to-head with Jeopardy legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the first of three matches. Do they stand a chance against the machine? Definitely, writes Greg Lindsay for Fast Company. He’s an actual human who’s beaten the computer three times, thanks in part to smart use of Daily Doubles. He found that Watson had some advantages (in terms of the buzzer, it was consistent; "buzz too early, you see, and you’re locked out for a split second") but categories with "semantic difficulty" gave Lindsay the upper hand. "Sure enough, Watson was bewildered by clues such as 'X marks the spot, man, when this guy opens his peeper' ('What is cyclops?')."

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But Lindsay’s matches occurred a year ago; Bruce Upbin played the computer last week and lost. Watson was “off-the-hook good,” taking more than $30,000 in winnings per game, Upbin writes for Forbes. After IBM put 3 years of work and, analysts estimate, up to $2 billion into the Watson project, its future remains unclear, notes CNNMoney. But “we're exploring the best ways to use this kind of capability to solve real problems,” says a rep. One possibility: “Watson, MD,” a program which would answer doctor’s questions. Click for more on tonight's IBM-human matchup.
(Read more IBM stories.)

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