ArticleDownload Worksheet February 17th, 2011
Watson Wins: Computer Beats Human Trivia Champs
Scientists building computers that can simulate the workings of the human brain scored a major victory when their creation, Watson, beat the greatest “Jeopardy!” winners of all time.
Two of the top “Jeopardy!” champions of all time, Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games, and Brad Rutter, who won more than $3 million in prize money, competed against Watson in a three-day challenge testing the contestants’ knowledge of history, science, geography, sports and literature.
The final score?
Ken Jennings: $24,000
Brad Rutter: $21,600
A computer that can outplay humans
In 1997 a computer named “Deep Blue” beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Skeptics downplayed the win because chess is essentially complex math problems.
So IBM researchers took on the grand challenge of developing a computing system that can master the complex natural human language on “Jeopardy!” which clues include jokes, puns, analogies and slang.
More than 200 IBM researchers throughout the world worked for four years to develop the super computer. Watson is named after Thomas J. Watson, who served as IBM’s CEO for 38 years. On television, it was represented by a “smarter plant” avatar with color-coded levels of confidence.
Programmers taught the computer to “get” human jokes
The programmers had to write dozens of formulas and algorithms to sort through the nuances of language, looking for patterns and learning from mistakes.
“There’s not going to be one algorithm that just understands language,” explained the head of the project, David Ferrucci. “It’s going to be a lot of different algorithms. They’re going to look at and interpret the language from different perspectives. And somehow, we’re going to be able to combine them.”
Once Watson understood the question, it searched through memory banks filled with the entire “World Book Encyclopedia,” Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database, much of the New York Times archive and the Bible.
Can Watson help doctors diagnose disease?
Watson is not perfect and does make mistakes. When a final “Jeopardy!” question asked for the name of a U.S. city, Watson answered Toronto, a city in Canada. But each wrong answer helps programmers refine the formulas that lead Watson to the correct conclusion.
Watson’s next challenge takes it to Columbia University Medical Center to explore and develop improvements in the health care industry.
Watson’s technology has the potential to develop formulas that could identify patterns on diagnostic images that radiologist can’t see with the human eye. Researchers also think Watson might be able to help financial advisors, government agencies, transportation workers and retail services.
Artificial intelligence: good or bad?
Of course, in many science fiction movies smart computers don’t always have humankind’s best interests in mind; think “The Matrix” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“Certainly, artificial intelligence can be destructive. It’s already used in our weapons. We have smart weapons that have their own intelligence,” says futurist and author Ray Kurzweil.
“Technology can be destructive, particularly in the wrong hands. The positive side is that these tools can help overcome human suffering, help cure disease, alleviate poverty, solve the energy problem, clean up the environment.”
–Compiled by Imani M. Cheers for NewsHour Extra
Submit Your Student Voice
Tooltip of RSS content 3
Lesson Plan: How to create a balanced budget — it’s a ‘Balancing Act’
How do we know that our government is fulfilling its duties to us, the public? How do we decide what those duties are? As efforts to pass the federal budget get underway, students will have the power to re-prioritize how money is spent using the interactive tool Balancing Act. What changes will they make? Continue readingBalancing ActBudgetbusiness educationEconomicseconomyfederal budgetFederal GovernmentGovernment & CivicshistoryPresidentSocial StudiesState Governmenttaxes
Young conservatives: Climate change is an issue for all of us
There is a growing movement among young conservatives, including evangelical Christians, who support environmental regulations. They say it’s important to act as faithful stewards of the earth. One group, the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has grown to 10,000 members in the past five years. Continue readingcarbon taxChristianityclimate changeclimate scienceconservatismconservativeevangelicalfossil fuelsGlobal WarmingGovernment & CivicsideologyPoliticsReligionScienceSocial Studies
Should seat belts be mandatory on school buses?
School districts around the country are debating whether or not to require seat belts on school buses. Requiring seat belts comes at a high cost for school districts already struggling with tight budgets. Continue readingbusDebateenglishEnglish & Language ArtsMaking the Gradeschool busschool busesschool safetyseat beltSocial Studies
Lesson plan: What’s your “Brief but Spectacular” take?
Every Thursday night, the PBS NewsHour profiles people and their passions in the series Brief but Spectacular. Creator Steve Goldbloom and his producing partner Zach Land-Miller wanted to find a new way to share original voices the public might otherwise not see. Now you can join the fun… Continue readingbrief but spectacularELAenglishEnglish & Language ArtsEnglish language learnersfilmIdentitySocial Studiesvideo
Lesson Plan: Storm chasing reveals clues to our weather future
Storm chasing: We do not recommend you try this at home! The top 208 weather…climate changeenvironmentenvironmental scienceextreme weatherNGSSScienceSRLSTEMstorm chasingstorms