Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

ibmwatsonFrom a drama point of view, the first episode featuring IBM’s Watson computer competing on Jeopardy! couldn’t have been better. The producers broke the first game into two pieces so they could give viewers a taste of the Watson back story on day one. So the first episode ended with a Single Jeopardy! score: Watson $5000; Brad Rutter $5000; Ken Jennings $2000. Cliff hanger!

At the beginning of the game, Watson got off to a fast start, crisply answering questions about Beatles songs and literary characters. He got the first Daily Double with his answer of  “Hyde”–identifying the evil character in the Robert Louis Stevenson book The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The humans came back in the second segment, beating Watson to the buzzer on a couple of questions that the machine knew the answers to but wasn’t quick enough to get a shot at answering. Watson showed some panache with his valiant attempt to pronounce the name of the character Jean Valjean, from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, with a French accent.

Those of you who watched the contest: What did you think?

dfOne of  Watson’s misses highlighted how difficult it is for a machine to play Jeopardy! The category was Olympic Oddities:  “It was the anatomical oddity of US gymnist George Eyser who won a gold medal on the parallel bars in 1904.” Ken Jennings said “arm” and was wrong. Watson said “leg,” but host Alex Trebek ruled him incorrect because he didn’t say the gymnast’s leg was missing.

During a viewing of the tape of the show earlier today, David Ferrucci, the IBM manager who heads up the Watson project, explained that Jeopardy! is an enormously broad domain of knowledge, and some of the classifications are pretty vague. In this case, the computer very likely didn’t understand what an “oddity” is. “The computer wouldn’t know that a missing leg is odder than anything else,” said Ferrucci. Still, over time, by reading more material and playing more games, Watson could come to understand. (Would he be able to understand that he is an oddity, I wonder.)

All in all, Ferrucci was pleased with the outcome of the first day. “I had a good feeling at the end of the first show,” he said. “I thought: Everybody will realize the computer is competitive. It can play with champions. It answered some tough questions.”

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Thank you for your comments. Many were used during today’s live TEDtalk.

You can view a replay of today’s TEDtalk with members of the IBM Watson team here –


Posted by: Kevin Winterfield
February 17, 2011
12:52 am

Fantastic comments.
Please keep posting your comments and questions. We will be using some of them at the LIVE event “Final Jeopardy and the Future of IBM Watson” event tomorrow 2/17 at 11:30 am ET.
Please tune in at
Thank you,
Kevin Winterfield
Editor, Smarter Planet blog
“Keep the Conversation Going”

Posted by: Kevin Winterfield
February 16, 2011
8:54 pm

To Jim McCarthy: Jeopardy never requires contestants to ask a particular question — it just has to be a question. Many times, I have seen people say things like “What is Abe Lincoln?” or even “Why is The Moon?” It doesn’t make any difference. You just need to give the correct response in the form of a question. ANY question. Alex may say “Remember the category,” but that’s only in reference to a response, not phrasing. And in Single Jeopardy, if a contestant forgets to use a question, he will say “Remember your phrasing…” So Watson could have said “How (or When or Where) is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?” and he still would have been correct.

Posted by: AndyNY2
February 16, 2011
2:30 pm

@Laurie Miller: Why is it “weird”? Watson is programmed to search out the Daily Doubles first, and then change strategy once they’re found. The Daily-Double search pattern was determined from analyses of their locations in past games.

@Jack Mason: Watson did have the correct answer; it’s number two choice was the 1910s, which Mr Rutter scored on.

@Jim McCarthy: I wondered that as well. But at the same time, I wondered why Watson’s answer of “leg” to the Olympic Oddities clue was ruled incorrect outright, rather than generating a “Be more specific,” response.

Posted by: Barry Leiba
February 16, 2011
11:24 am

Despite the fact that Watson has a little difficulty in understanding nuances, I think it has two main advantages over humans playing Jeopardy. First, when the categories are announced, Watson can start narrowing down its database to the specific categories, while the men have to concentrate on each answer as they come up. Second, if the text message with each answer is sent at the instant the answer comes up on the screen, Watson is able to start working long before the men have time to even read the question.

Posted by: Ernie Jay
February 16, 2011
10:07 am

The fact that Watson named Toronto is not lame at all. Toronto does have the Billy Bishop Airport and if you read a history book or two outside of America you’ll see that he in fact was a First World War hero.

Posted by: Scott
February 16, 2011
8:50 am

I found it interesting that Watson had real trouble with the “Name the Decade” category. It failed to deduce the right form of the response from the category name.

Posted by: Morris Jones
February 15, 2011
10:38 pm

I keep wondering about Watson’s answer, “What is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer ?”, to the Beatles Personalities Jeopardy answer about the personality that song. Watson received points for that question, but as a long time (if infrequent) Jeopardy watcher (my Mother was a big fan of the show, seldom missing an episode), I believe the correct response should have been “Who is Maxwell ?” Historically, as I recall, the host would remind contestants, “Remember the category” — in this case, the questions sought by clues in this category were the *personality* (here, Maxwell), not the song title nor the object referenced in Watson’s response, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” So why was Watson given credit for a “correct” response in this case ? (Obviously in its response, “Who is Eleanor Rigby ?”, to another clue in the same category Watson did not need to distinguish between the song title and the Beatles *personality*, but in the case of Maxwell I think it did not provide the correct response, strictly speaking….)

Posted by: Jim McCarthy
February 15, 2011
7:06 pm

It was great to see the ‘mistake’ that Watson made – reminds us “he” was programmed by humans.
It was a bit weird though that “he” got the daily double on the first try, going straight to “whatever-for-$800″ and then from that point on “he” went in order from lowest dollar amount to highest.
I’m looking forward to tonight and am glad it’s not a complete blow-out.

Posted by: Laurie Miller
February 15, 2011
6:36 pm

I watched the episode and was truly amazed by the entire thing! It is so captivating to watch and so unbelieveable to think about what is actually going on behind all that to make this be a reality. Mr. Ferrucci and everyone involved in the Watson project should truly be proud of what they have accomplished. I hope that I, someday may get to be a part of something as groundbreaking as this project. Keep up the amazing work, and I’ll be tuned un tonight for round 2!

Posted by: Justin Marcoux
February 15, 2011
10:52 am

@Jack – Here’s a good blog post from one of the Watson Researchers, Dr. David Gondek, that explains how Watson “sees,” “hears,” and “speaks”:

Posted by: Kevin Winterfield
February 15, 2011
7:55 am

The other glitch in an otherwise auspicious debut was repeating one of Jennings wrong answers….”1920s” but I think Watson didn’t have the correct answer in his queue.

Posted by: Jack Mason
February 14, 2011
7:55 pm


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Posted by: 授乳ワンピース
March 9, 2011
8:46 am

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February 15, 2011
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February 14, 2011
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6 Tweets
February 15, 2011
2:53 am

RT @stevehamm31: My Tweet on Watson competing on Jeopardy!

Posted by: fatherof8js (fatherof8js)
February 15, 2011
12:57 am

Congratulations to my friend @IBMWatson I have found dominating humans at basketball to be similarly rewarding.

Posted by: Ron5Robot (ROBOT RONALD NORED)
February 15, 2011
12:44 am

My Tweet on Watson competing on Jeopardy!

Posted by: stevehamm31 (Steve Hamm)
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