America

Watson, Humanity And The Moment That Proved It's As Fallible As Us

Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, cracks his knuckles before starting a practice match against an IBM computer called "Watson." The round occurred February 11. i i

Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, cracks his knuckles before starting a practice match against an IBM computer called "Watson." The round occurred February 11. Seth Wenig/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Seth Wenig/AP
Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, cracks his knuckles before starting a practice match against an IBM computer called "Watson." The round occurred February 11.

Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, cracks his knuckles before starting a practice match against an IBM computer called "Watson." The round occurred February 11.

Seth Wenig/AP

Watson, IBM's super computer, pummeled two of the smartest humans, yesterday, on Jeopardy! At the end of the night Ken Jennings ended with $4,800, Brad Rutter with $10,400 and Watson with $35,734.

Before the second of three games began, things looked promising for the human race, because Watson and Rudder were tied at $5,000. But soon, Watson, was running the table.

The matchup has been heaven sent for the singularity fans around us. A match-up for the 21st Century: Man versus Machine. The moment when we find out if a pile of silicon and semiconductors and processors could be smarter than the current Jeopardy! champion and the guy who won 74 Jeopardy! games in a row.

The cover story for Time magazine's Feb. 21st edition is about singularity, or the point when computers reach such a sophisticated level that they're smarter than us. The magazine claims singularity will be with us by 2045. The Los Angeles Times wonders if Watson marks the onset of that event. On the web, the moment is portrayed more dramatically. AutoStraddle puts it bluntly: "Jeopardy Proves the End Is Nigh, Watson Will Enslave Us Soon."

But there was a moment in yesterday's Jeopardy! that proved Watson is fallible. The clue was from the category U.S. Cities: "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero. Its second largest is named for a World War II battle." Jim Behrle from The Awl does the moment justice:

So, after watching the machine get basically all the money and leave two of the game's greatest players looking like potted plants, we found ourselves at Final Jeopardy. What should have been a coronation for our New Digital Overlord came to a sudden, promising climax. The category was U.S. Cities. Which seems awfully easy to me, there's only like 4 really good ones. How many of those cities have two Airports? 4. But apparently the dumb geniuses that created Watson forgot to tell it that Canada isn't part of the United States. It knows which [freaking] British King was depicted in a stolen painting from Brazil in 1989, but not that there's a giant line between America and Canada and that Toronto is WRONG, stupid.

And here is Kreepiekats reacting to the moment on YouTube:

After Watson reveals its answer, Kreepiekats screams, "Humanity! Humanity! Humanity!"

All Things D. spoke to Stephen Baker, the author of Final Jeopardy, which details the Watson experiment. He talks about what went wrong with Watson's answer in Final Jeopardy. Essentially Watson was tripped up by the its. A native English speaker would know that the first and second "its" refer to a U.S. City. For Watson it's a challenge:

Still Watson didn't wager much on that question. And going into tonight it still has a sizable lead. We'll see if humanity takes a stand.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.