Preview: Watson Creams Miles O’Brien

BY Lauren Knapp  February 9, 2011 at 1:00 PM EDT

Starting Monday, “Jeopardy!” viewers will witness a classic three-day man vs. machine match. In a John Henry, or better yet, Deep Blue vs. Garry Kasparov-style competition, the quiz show’s two most successful players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, will compete against a supercomputer named Watson.

Miles O’Brien spoke to Hari Sreenivasan shortly after playing Watson:


A team of 25 IBM programmers spent four years building and testing Watson to play one of America’s most challenging trivia shows. Creating a machine that could understand the culturally nuanced questions of “Jeopardy!” made the 1997 Deep Blue-Kasparov match seem like simple computation.

Once Watson was able to understand the clue, it had to decide on one appropriate response, rather than providing a list of possibilities like a search engine would generate. It wasn’t until the team programmed Watson to learn in real time from its competitors that it really became a player.

For more on Watson and the IBM team behind it, watch NOVA’s hour-long special, airing Wednesday night.

Watch a preview a special on Watson airing on NOVA Wednesday night: