Jeopardy! supercomputer: Is the next game show champ a machine?

Watson, the Jeopardy! supercomputer, dominated a practice round this week. What does the IBM Jeopardy! supercomputer say about the future of robotics.

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    Jeopardy supercomputer Watson has beaten two human contestants during a practice round of the game show. At left, a robot that is most definitely NOT Watson.
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Watson, a computer built by a team of scientists at IBM, has bested two former Jeopardy! champs in a practice round of the popular game show. That's the word today from the tech site ZDNet, which was on hand to watch the proceedings and ask a few questions of the participants. (The human ones, at least; presumably Watson isn't quite ready to handle a press conference.)

According to ZDNet, Watson, which took four years to build and perfect, went a single round with Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Once the dust had cleared, Watson stood triumphant, having racked up an admirable $4,400. By comparison, Jennings won $3,400, and Rutter won $1,200. (Some very shaky video of the showdown is below.)

"As one of the dozens of humans watching this practice round, I can’t deny I was a bit squeamish about seeing a supercomputer wing it, adapt and show off its artificial intelligence," writes ZDNet's Larry Dignan. "Is this thing going to be Skynet? That’s a bit farfetched – today IBM is thinking health care will make the most use of Watson – but a supercomputer that has self-awareness and can learn gives this human pause."

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Of course, the practice round was just a warm-up for good old Watson. On Feb. 14, 15, and 16, the IBM computer will get a shot at real, live competition, when Jeopardy! airs a "man vs. machine" showdown.

“After four years, our scientific team believes that Watson is ready for this challenge based on its ability to rapidly comprehend what the Jeopardy! clue is asking, analyze the information it has access to, come up with precise answers, and develop an accurate confidence in its response,” IBM scientist Dr. David Ferrucci told Mashable this week.

Bottom line: The robots are coming! Prepare.

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