Smartest Machine on Earth Wins On Jeopardy

“Smartest Machine on Earth” Wins On Jeopardy

Jeopardy Champs Ken Jennings & Brad Rutter Battle But Computer Wins

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The new Jeopardy champ is Watson, an IBM computer that made history.

In the quiz show’s first-ever man vs. machine competition, Watson, the “smartest machine on earth,” played against Jeopardy’s two most celebrated and successful players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

It was a spirited and often funny game, especially when Watson got answers terribly wrong (once calling Toronto a U.S. city). The game was not a runaway victory, but with speed and interesting wagering, Watson was the undeniable winner.

Host Alex Trebeck noted that it was an honor that Jeopardy was selected as the testing ground for the new AI technology. “Obviously there is still work to be done, but if this was just the tip of the iceberg, then our viewers have much to look forward to– Watson, the new Jeopardy host,” joked Trebeck.

In second place was Ken Jennings, who had a remarkable 74-game win streak on Jeopardy. He said he’s amazed by what has been accomplished. “I’ve studied artificial intelligence, and I can say that this is an impressive and unprecedented moment. A few years ago, I don’t think it was possible for a computer to play at this level. IBM knocked my socks off with how fast they’ve caught up.”

There was a grand prize of $1 million dollars, which officials at IBM announcing that it will be donated to charities. They are World Vision, a worldwide relief and development organization, and World Community Grid, whose mission is to create the world’s largest public computing grid.

Jennings will be donating half of his $300,000 winnings to the Seattle-based non-profit Village Reach.

Brad Rutter (the all time biggest money winner and, until now, undefeated champ) earned $200,000 and will donate half to the Community Foundation, which helps support the public library system in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He said that when he was growing up the highlight of his week was going to the library. “Reading all those books ignited a passion for knowledge that eventually led me to my success on Jeopardy, so it made a lot of sense to me,” he explained about his donation.

Prior to the Jeopardy contest, there was a glimpse behind the scenes of how the history-making competition was developed.

The Nova special The Smartest Machine on Earth, which aired on PBS, gave viewers a fascinating look at the efforts to build a machine that thinks like a person. It delved into the groundbreaking creation of the Watson computer, and also gave other examples of AI, artificial intelligence.

The founder of IBM is T.J. Watson, and so the remarkable computer was named for him, explained Dr. David Ferrucci, who appeared on the Nova special.

Ferrucci, a research staff member and leader of Semantic Analysis at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, said back in 2007 he began exploring the feasibility of designing a computer that could rival human champions on Jeopardy. Named “Deep QA,” the project focused on advancing language question answering, using massively parallel evidence-base computing. It was a breakthrough in artificial intelligence.

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Now that the Jeopardy challenge is over, Ferrucci and his team that designed Watson plan to apply the Deep QA technologies to areas like medicine, government, and law to drive advances in computer supported intelligence and decision making fields.

Ferrucci said he thinks “this challenge helps us appreciate how incredible the human brain is. The point is we were able to take a step forward. That’s what we’re excited about.”

Harry Friedman, executive producer of Jeopardy, now in its 27th season, is a leader in the television industry. He reported he was rooting for “a great competition. I feel as though the show is really the big winner because we’re bringing our viewers something that we never dreamed of doing.”

Friedman has produced more than 5,500 episodes of Jeopardy, and is also the executive producer of Wheel of Fortune.

Paula Apsell, the senior executive producer of Nova, now in its 38th season, said the Nova special helped “clarify some of the misconceptions about AI, and make us understand that HAL is not coming to town all that soon.”

HAL, of course was the rogue computer from 2001 A Space Odyssey, which also pitted man against machine.


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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