Thursday, February 17, 2011

Computer beat humans on Jeopardy, but was it a fair test?

Ken Jennings, Watson and Brad Rutter
The Man vs. Machine contest on "Jeopardy" this week was disappointing, not only because the computer Watson won in a rout, but because the first two of the three shows were cluttered with too many IBM promotional segments. Yes, it was interesting to see how Watson worked, but one segment was enough. We get it, IBM, you guys are smart.

Watson is impressive, but the show also should remind "Jeopardy" viewers of the underappreciated art of pressing the buzzer. On any particular clue, more than one player may know the correct answer, but it's the one who presses the signaling device at the right time that gets to answer (you sometimes see frustrated players rapidly pressing the button, but still not getting in). In this week's contest, Watson clearly had an advantage in reaction time.

Despite the crowing of the IBM guys over Watson's victory, I have to point out that this was not a true "Jeopardy" test.  A normal Jeopardy game has at least a few video and audio clues,  and sometimes a whole category of them. But because Watson can't see or hear, these were left out. Hmmm, I'd say IBM still has some work to do.


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