Watson: A smart guy or a publicity stunt?

//Watson: A smart guy or a publicity stunt?

Watson: A smart guy or a publicity stunt?

Watson the computer beat two of Jeopardy’s all-time champs.

But was it a publicity stunt or was it an honest match?

As any arm-chair player of Jeopardy can tell you, there are two essential skills needed to win:
1. knowledge of facts, history, trivia and wordplay.
2. a quick trigger finger.

Watson knows the answers. Cool. So does Google (or did we forget that there is another computer that can answer questions from humans). But was Watson allowed to click in faster than competitors? If it did, then the human competitors were at a severe disadvantage. If they aren’t allowed to answer the questions, then they can’t possibly win.

Would it be possible to check the code and rule set that allowed for Watson to click in and be allowed to answer the question first?

By |2011-02-17T10:04:18+00:00February 17th, 2011|Publicity|1 Comment

About the Author:

Dan Janal, author of "Write Your Book In A Flash!" helps leaders write books so they can get more clients and sell more products. My clients get terrific results from my coaching, developmental editing and ghostwriting. For info, go to http://www.WriteYourBookInAFlash.com.

One Comment

  1. Stephen Balzac February 18, 2011 at 8:11 am - Reply

    Hi Dan,

    An interesting post on Watson, but your questions are easily answered… just use Google 🙂

    Seriously, as impressive as Watson’s question answering was, that wasn’t what made it so successful. Let me address your other points first, though.

    The trigger finger point: all human players develop heuristics for training themselves to buzz in as quickly as possible without getting locked out. Watson has its own algorithms, based on how much confidence it has in its answer. There were times when the human players beat Watson to the punch. However, just as a human player will try to keep the questions in an area where he has greater knowledge, which translates to an improved ability to respond quickly, Watson does the same. Just as humans respond more rapidly when we have higher confidence in our answers, so does Watson.

    Watson vs. Google: try typing a typical Jeopardy question into Google: “A city whose first airport is named for a WWII hero and whose second for a famous battle from the same war.” What you’ll get is a discussion of how Watson answered that question (Toronto???). Google forces us to ask questions in a way the computer understands; Watson answers questions the way we naturally speak.

    The real secret to Watson’s success, though, was less about its ability to answer questions as its ability to gauge the confidence of its answers. Watson bets small amounts when it has low confidence and large amounts when it has high confidence, just like a person. However, Watson is considerably more able than most people to accurately assess the likelihood of its being right or wrong.

    Watson is also able to calculate with a high degree of accuracy where Daily Doubles are likely to occur. Apparently, it’s a statistical calculation based on past games, and Watson can run that calculation very, very fast. Faster than any human.

    In short, as impressive as is Watson’s ability to understand English and understand puns (yes, it can do that!), the real secret to Watson’s success is that it knows how to win big when it’s right and cut its losses when it’s wrong.

    Now that’s a lesson we might all benefit from!


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