Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Watson" Goes for Win

The language-computing computer Watson will attempt to hold on to its lead tonight in the final episode of a three-part Jeopardy! series pitting the computer versus two of the shows greatest champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Eric Nyberg is a contributor in the creation of Watson, and says he will watch with excitement, though he already knows the result.

Nyberg along with CMU students Nico Schlaefer and Hideki Shima work with IBM on the development of the computer which has earnings of $35,734 after 2 rounds of Jeopardy compared to $10,400 for Rutter and $4,800 for Jennings. The 3 episodes were filmed last month, so Nyberg and other contributors to the computer’s creation know the results. Nyberg was surprised by Watson’s success on the second day.

“I think my expectation was really that it would be like what you saw on day one where it was sort of a neck and neck kind of thing where Watson did very well in some categories and didn’t really answer anything in some of the other categories,” Nyberg says. “That’s actually quite characteristic of Watson’s performance overall.”

The language computing computer processes the clues using a vast knowledge of the English language, programmed by people like Nyberg. Watson then calculates a confidence level for the answers it’s considering and buzzes in if it seems sure.

Nyberg says the research has been great for the field of language computing technology and he says CMU has already implemented improvements to the model idea.

“One of the things we’re working on at Carnegie Mellon is a technique that basically helps Watson to study for a particular topic,” Nyberg says. “You can give Watson documents that are on topics that you want him to learn about and then we have another tech that will go out and find other relevant texts that are available.”

However if Nyberg wants viewers to know anything, he jokes that Watson’s intelligence is nothing to fear.

“It’s not going to take over the world, it’s not dangerous and nobody’s going to give any launch codes to Watson when it thinks that grasshoppers eat kosher and Toronto is a U.S. city.”

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