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Computer beats Jeopardy! champs - is world domination far behind?

Posted by Jesse Nunes  January 13, 2011 04:40 PM

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IBM computer Watson took on Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings (left) and Brad Rutter (right) during a test match today in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Humans have often speculated about computers: What exactly can we make them do? How smart can we make them? Is there a limit to what they can do? When will they rule us all?

At the moment, we're just having fun competing against them – and losing.

IBM recently created a supercomputer named Watson that will compete against humans in the "Jeopardy!: IBM Challenge."

The other two contestants? Previous "Jeopardy!" champions Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive matches, and Brad Rutter, who won a record-breaking $3.3 million as a contestant. The televised match will air in February, but today IBM offered a teaser in a three-round test battle.

Watson has been in the works for approximately four years. It is powered by 10 racks of IBM servers and has 15 terabytes of RAM. However, Google or KGB are no help to the machine, as it's not connected to the Internet. Instead, it gets its information from myriad encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, and other sources of information it has digested. According to IBM, Watson has access to the equivalent of 200 million pages of content.

Watson also works just like a human contestant would: he has a buzzer and answers in the form of a question. Although as a bonus for the audience, the top three answers that Watson believes are correct are projected on a screen, giving insight into its decision-making process.

The results of the today's match shouldn't be too surprising. Tech blog
that no question went answered incorrectly by any of the contestants, but the computer beat the human champs, as Watson led with $4,400, Jennings was second with $3,400, and Rutter rounded out the scoring with $1,200. Watch video of the competition on Engadget's website.

Still, this was only a test. The real, "official" contest will happen at an unnamed date in the near future, and air on television from Feb. 16, with the winner getting a cool $1 million. So, there is still time for the humans to redeem themselves. But if they don't, it may be time to start worrying.

What do you think: Who will win in the when the greatest trivia minds in game show history take on a computer in a full game of Jeopardy!? Leave your predictions in the comments.

UPDATE: Watch a portion of the test match below.

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