Remember the date. Because February 16, 2011, may likely go down in history as the day that human intelligence was surpassed -- or at least matched -- by the intelligence of computers and software programming. For three days this week, a computer named Watson was a contestant on the television game show Jeopardy, where it handily defeated two worthy opponents in the two-game "IBM Challenge" named for Watson's creator.
Representing all of humanity (as he put it) was Ken Jennings, whose 74-game wining streak stands as the quiz-show's longest, and Brad Rutter, whose cash winnings across three separate championship series totaled a record $3.2 million.
The epitome of throwing hardware at a problem, Watson consists of 10 equipment racks, each populated with 10 IBM POWER750 "embarrassingly parallel" servers with a total of 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of system memory. Watson is reportedly capable of operating at 80 teraflops. Oh, and by the way, it's running Linux. A pair of giant cooling units are required to maintain a comfortable temperature in Watson's living room.
A successor of sorts to IBM's so-called Deep Blue chess computer, the DeepQA project delves into the topic of artificially intelligent question answering (the QA part) and has come to define such algorithms as those serving as Watson's brain.
The animated avatar that represented Watson on the set of the game show has 27 states of being, or facial expressions, that can be triggered by how its own actions or by other events taking place during the game. For example, when Watson answers correctly, he displays pleasure and elation with swirling green leaders and followers streaking around the top of the sphere.
Other states include answered, answering, answer correct, answer revealed, answer wrong, buzzer enabled, buzzer time out, category selected, clue revealed, opponent answering, score gain, score loss, opponent score gain, daily double and others. Yellow and red indicate low and lower moods, and Watson shines blue when it lands on a Daily Double.
Next: Watson's 'Buzz Threshold'