IBM’s Watson vs. Jeopardy! Champs Kicks Off

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Tonight is the kick-off to Jeopardy!‘s three-night run of IBM’s Watson supercomputer vs. Jeopardy! champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter — the first man vs. machine competition in the show’s history.

After seven years of research and planning, thousands of hours of testing and over 50 champion-level sparring matches, Watson — which was designed to compete on Jeopardy! — faces the two greatest champions in the show’s history.

The grand prize for the competition will be $1 million with second place earning $300,000 and third place $200,000. Rutter and Jennings will donate 50% of their winnings to charity and IBM will donate 100% of its winnings to charity.[more]

The public exhibition of Watson’s abilities comes as IBM prepares to celebrate its centenary in June. But it’s not just a gimmick for a gameshow.

As today’s New York Times notes, IBM executives “intend to commercialize Watson to provide a new class of question-answering systems in business, education and medicine. The repercussions of such technology are unknown, but it is possible, for example, to envision systems that replace not only human experts, but hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs throughout the economy and around the globe.”

Visit IBMWatson.com for more details, or check out IBM’s videos below that explain Watson’s abilities and Jeopardy! prep. Throughout the three-day tourney, viewers are invited to follow @IBMWatson on Twitter or check out its Facebook page for preshow and postshow extras.

On February 14, 2011, Watson, the IBM computing system designed to play Jeopardy!, faces its toughest challenge yet. Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge pits the two greatest champions in the show’s history against a machine that rivals their ability to deliver a single, precise answer to a Jeopardy! clue.

In 2007 IBM Research began creating Watson, a data analytics and natural language processing computer, with the goal to have Watson compete on Jeopardy, a perfect testing platform.

IBM’s Watson is a real time, natural language processing computer that employs deep analytics and machine learning capabilities to answer questions.

Using advanced computing and emerging technology, the natural language processing computer is prepared for Jeopardy! competition.

During the process of designing Watson, IBM tested the system against former Jeopardy! champions. Watson is programmed to buzz in — or refrain from buzzing — according to the system’s level of confidence in a response and its position in the game relative to its competition.

The IBM computing system can understand natural language and deliver a single, precise answer to a Jeopardy! clue — truly an example of a smarter system. Building Watson involved integrating custom algorithms, terabytes of storage and thousands of POWER7 computing cores into an optimized solution greater than the sum of its parts.

Watson must be able to correctly pronounce the many unusual or foreign words that certain responses require. In the months of preparation for the Jeopardy! challenge, Watson’s pronunciation and tone of voice saw marked improvement thanks to the diligent work of the IBM team.

The IBM Research team that designed Watson faced many hurdles in teaching the system the nuances of human language. Often a clue will ask for a gender specific response. Human contestants quickly pick up on these cues, but Watson initially struggled with this concept. The team made great strides in correcting this during its sparring matches against former champions.

During its training against former champions, Watson was constantly updated on popular music, movies, television and pop culture references in order to be competitive in these categories. Watch Watson tackle pop culture references during these sparring matches.

Preparing Watson for the Jeopardy! stage posed a unique challenge to the team: how to represent a system of 90 servers and hundreds of custom algorithms for the viewing public. IBM, in collaboration with a team of partners, created a representation of this computing system for the viewing audience — from its stage presence to its voice.

As for day one of Jeopardy!‘s IBM Challenge (spoiler alert!) — it ended in a tie.

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