Dr. Fogg & Sir Daniel presents..

Elementry..My Dear Watson

In Daniels articles on February 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm

In 1964,  American television changed in a way that has inspired countless people to learn more than they would have ever dreamed..  on March 30th of that year, Art Fleming hosted a new gameshow called Jeopardy.   The concept is simple, three contestants try to answer as many questions in six categories per round, each harder question being worth more money.   The one trick to the show is every answer you came up with had to be in the form of a question.   sounds easy?

In 1984, Jeopardy acquired a new host, Alex Trebek, and the rest they say..  is history.. and what a wonderful history it is.   Currently on it’s 27th season, Jeopardy has hosted “Tournament of Champions”, “Celebrity Jeopardy”, “College Championship”, “Teen Tournaments” and other ways that average people can show their trivia skills to a nation of people who like to sit in their couches and yell the correct answer at the television when the contestants don’t know it themselves.

Jeopardy has also entered American culture, “The Golden Girls”, “Cheers”, “Mama’s Family”, “The Nanny” have all featured episodes where a character trys out for Jeopardy, the movie “White Men Can’t Jump”  has a main character doing the same and in the movie “Rain Man”, Dustin Hoffman’s character knows exactly what time Jeopardy comes on television every night.  Even the “Simpson’s” had Marge Simpson herself on the show..   We know we love Jeopardy, we know we want to impress people by winning on Jeopardy..  We know we want to be like Ken Jennings..

   On June 02 2004, Ken won his first game.   At the time, Jeopardy was on it’s 20th year on television and only the year previous had they changed the rules so someone could play more than 5 games in a row.   Ken kept winning after that game and was invited back as the returning champion 74 times..  It was on his 75th game in a row that Ken finally lost.   This winning streak took 182 calender days and amazed an entire country.  Ken won $2,520,700 dollars in that time which was a record.   Ken also defeated 150 people in his reign as champion.   Not to bad for a software engineer who was living in Salt Lake City, Utah..

After Jeopardy, Ken wrote two books as well as he hosts a column in “Mental Floss” magazine.  He appeared in the game shows “1 vs. 100”, “Grand Slam”, and “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader”.   Ken is pretty smart (it would be tough to argue differently) yet he doesn’t hold the record for the most money won on Jeopardy..  That instead is held by another smart man..

His name is Brad Rutter, and his “claim to fame” is going 20 matches without loosing a game.

  When Brad was 22, he became a Jeopardy champion.  His betting allowed him to win a total of $3,270,102 dollars by the time he defeated Ken Jennings in the “Ultimate Tournament of Champions”.   Brad was working in a record store before he happened upon his chance at fame.

Both these guys are pretty smart, I would dare play trivial pursuit against either..  yet perhaps there is someone out there who would, could and has defeated them..

meet Watson..  well, I should say meet the “face” of Watson..

  You really can’t shake Watsons hand because he is an artificial intelligence program developed by IBM designed to answer questions posed in natural language.   Named after IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, Watson is being developed as part of the DeepQA research project.   Watson nearly takes up a building to himself and is programmed with more information than Ken or Brad will ever be able to learn in their lifetimes..   Yet someone at IBM thought wouldn’t it be a great idea to put Watson on Jeopardy and face him off against Ken and Brad?  Someone on Jeopardy agreed and now, for our viewing enjoyment, we get to watch a supercomputer show off against two of the smartest people in the country..

How can this be fair?  IBM said that Watson may have trouble understanding the questions as the English language is so tricky..   Also, Watson has to search through the words in the question and compute what is the most likely common denominator..   In the final Jeopardy question, they asked which major US city had a large airport was named after a World War 2 hero and another airport named after a World War 2 battle,  I’m proud to say that somehow, I knew.. It was Chicago..    I wasn’t surprised however that both Ken and Brad knew the answer as well but when it was Watsons time he replied “Toronto???”..   which as we know isn’t even a US city..   I believe the only reason he got that question wrong was because there was nothing in the question that would tell you how to search for the answer..  You could run a list of ALL major airports in the USA and then run a search of the people they were named after??   There are far too many airports to run such a search and why in the heck did Watson come up with a Canadian airport when the question asked clearly for a US airport?

seems Watson may have a bit of a weakness..  however it still doesn’t stop him from knowing the name of the guy who led a slave revolt in Persia 800 years ago or who painted what picture in a Chinese temple back in the Ming dystany..  After all, he IS a computer, he is the result of some very smart people and they took 4 years to design and build him.

This brings us to this weeks special Jeopardy challenge, Ken and Brad versus Watson..  The way I understand the rules, Watson can’t hear the questions as Alex reads them instead he is fed the questions instantly.   He then comes up with three possible answers, each with a percentage it believes each answer could be true.   Watson normally doesn’t answer unless he believes something more than 60 percent..   Still Watson has missed a few, but not many..   In the first round, Watson dominated.  Between Brad and Ken, they were lucky to answer four or five questions as Watson had the buzzer before they could.. 

I’m of course rooting for the human race, I believe Watson has several unfair advantages and the first be the fact he is fed the questions directly instead of having to wait till they are read.   Instantly Watson knows what the question is and is comparing answers while Brad and Ken are waiting for Alex to finish..   This explains why Watson is first to buzz in so often.

The folks at IBM claim Watson isn’t connected to the internet..  however, I fail to understand what it is that separates from Watson from being the internet.  Is not the internet millions upon millions of information and people all connected together sharing everything via simple keystrokes?  Was Watson not programmed?

Yet I watch the human race be defeated by a computer that can’t even smile at the millions of people who are impressed at how easy it comes up with answers.   A computer that made (one of it’s few) mistakes when it incorrectly answered the same reply that someone else had said only seconds earlier.

Brad and Ken, you both impress me.   I wish I could remember half the things you have forgotten.   Regardless of the score at the end, you both have reason to be proud.   As for Watson, you make me laugh..  I see you showing how smart you are yet don’t forget (if you could forget..) that it was mankind who invented you.     I do wish however you would miss more answers than you do as it’s so great to see you goof up.  When you do, I can claim (even if it’s only to myself) that for that one quesion,  I knew more than a supercomputer did..

~ Daniel

  1. Great article as always Doc. It makes me almost want to watch T.V. again. But, not quite. I like my computer, better. I really believe you are going places with your poetry writing, my friend.
    Excellent job with all your blogs.

    Love and Hugs Jan xoxo 🙂

  2. Daniel, I rember having my first computer, a Commodore 64. I thought at the time it was just about the most stupid entity on the planet.No matter howhighly programmed a computer is it lacks one essential ingredient and that is a sense of humour.Very interesting article and food for thought.


  3. Applause! You have done an excellent job on this article Daniel. I was fascinated to see what Watson would come up with. In the end though, I felt it was easier for Watson to repeat info it had already been fed than it was for the “human” contestant to hit that buzzer at the same time he is trying to search his own brain!

  4. After Watson the Jeopardy-playing computer finishes its face-off this week IBM says its time to get down to business..By staff writerFebruary 14 2011 4 19 PM ET NEW YORK CNNMoney — IBM is not just about playing games.Thats what IBMs Vice President of Research Katherine Frase said when asked what the company has planned for Watson after its Jeopardy match this week. Now that weve taught Watson to play Jeopardy were exploring the best ways to use this kind of capability to solve real problems she said. The will begin Monday night and continue through Tuesday and Wednesday.But starting Thursday IBM will have to figure out how to advance the technologies that emerged from the three years of research and dozens of engineers the company dedicated to the project.Watson didnt come cheap.

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