Watson triumphs in Jeopardy's man vs. machine challenge

IBM's supercomputer crushes human opponents on third night of the TV game show challenge

In the third night of man vs. machine on Jeopardy, IBM's Watson supercomputer trounced its champion opponents.

After a slow start that saw the computer's human opponents Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter outpacing Watson, the supercomputer made a decisive comeback. At the end of the final game, Watson came away with the big win, racking up a total of $77,147, compared to $24,000 for Jennings and $21,600 for Rutter.

In the show's IBM Challenge , the machine may have faltered in a few categories, but was faster to the buzzer and more knowledgeable than the game show's human champions.

"It's not quite time yet to give up and welcome our new machine overlords," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "While Watson is doing some amazing and new things, it's still just a machine. The real thinking here is from the humans who designed and tuned the software."

IBM 's Jeopardy-playing supercomputer has been touted by some observers to be one of the biggest computing advancements in the past several decades.

What's so significant here? It's the computer's ability to deliver more than calculations and documents. It can answer verbal questions posed by humans. That, say IBM researchers and industry analysts, makes this machine more equipped than any before it to verbally converse with people.

"The big step here is in the machine being able to 'understand' the questions and the context," Olds said. "In simple terms, the hard part is to get the machine to be able to effectively judge the intent behind the questions -- to decipher the word tricks that humans intuitively understand."

And Watson did well with deciphering the questions on the game show.

However, it did struggle with a few categories, like "Actors who Direct." Jennings and Rutter had several strong runs, once taking seven questions in a row between them.

In the end, Watson won the $1 million grand prize, which is slated to go to charity. Jennings will receive $300,000 and Rutter will get $200,000. Both men said they will donate half of their winnings to charities.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about mainframes and supercomputers in Computerworld's Mainframes and Supercomputers Topic Center.

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