IBM's DeepQA Computer Watson Flexes AI Muscle On Jeopardy!

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When formulating each Jeopardy response, Watson generates an answer panel listing its top three guesses in order of confidence. If its confidence in at least one answer isn't above a certain threshold, Watson won't take the risk of buzzing in. This "buzz threshold" also can vary along with the stakes in the game, forcing Watson to take fewer risks to preserve a lead, for example, or to play aggressively as Final Jeopardy draws near.


For call centers, questions coming in that are beyond the knowledge of the first-level support technician might be solved using natural language processor like Watson. For financial institutions, current events can be monitored in real time and analyzed along with what-if scenarios. In health care, a physician might confirm the diagnoses of highly complex cases or where drug interactions might not be anticipated. There are applications in banking, insurance, telephone networks and any industry where large amounts of natural-language text exists. In essence, all industries stand to benefit from Watson's so-called deepQA capabilities.

Unlike its human counterparts, which have to decipher language before formluating a response, Watson is fed its questions electronically, as text files. This led one person to theorize on a Youtube page that Watson had an advantage on longer questions because he could begin formulating a response before the humans were done listening to the question.

After reading this and watching the match again, I saw no evidence to support the theory. However, I did notice that humans were slower at buzzing in, and that when they did have an opportunity to answer, Watson invariably lacked high confidence. Perhaps Watson should be handicapped by the same 0.10 seconds in the IAAF's false start rule for track and field events. Because the humans never had a chance.

In the end, Watson had amassed more than $77,000 in the two-game tournament, nearly doubling the combined scores of its human challengers. Jeopardy producers awarded IBM with a $1m top prize, which it said will be donated to charities World Vision and World Community Grid.

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