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IBM's Watson Beats Humans in 'Jeopardy' Practice Round

watson vs. humans on jeopardy
When 'Jeopardy' legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter face off against IBM's Watson supercomputer next month, they'll be going up against a machine that clearly knows a thing or two about... well, everything.

Yesterday, Watson went head-to-head in a practice 'Jeopardy' round against Jennings and Rutter -- the Ruth and Gehrig of televised trivia. Not surprisingly, all three contestants proved that they know more about everything than anyone else, and, between them, answered every single question correctly. Ultimately, though, Watson triumphed over its mortal competitors. The supercomputer won $4,400, while Jennings and Rutter piled up $3,400 and $1,200, respectively.

It's pretty obvious, then, that Jennings and Rutter will have a match on their hands when they compete again. But it's still hard to say how the battle will shape up over the course of a full-length game. (The actual competition is slated to be taped today, and will air in February.) And, although neither human contestant beat Watson on an individual level, their collective score was slightly higher than the computer's total -- which, from a purely 'Man vs. Machine' perspective, bodes pretty well for human intelligence, as a whole.

Engadget's Paul Miller caught up with IBM engineer David Gondek, who offered some insight into how Watson got so smart. As it turns out, Watson's 'DeepQA' technology essentially consists of a complex system of algorithms. For each question, the computer simultaneously runs thousands of algorithms, which help it to understand the question, and spit out an answer within seconds. IBM's algorithms are underpinned by a database of "common knowledge," although Gondek assured that Watson isn't connected to the Internet.

Following the practice round, Jennings and Rutter hosted a question and answer session alongside host Alex Trebek and several IBM executives. Although he fared pretty well against the machine, Jennings admitted that he was slightly startled by Watson's skills, and said he still doesn't "want technology to advance that far just yet." Rutter, meanwhile, acknowledged that he was similarly "impressed with Watson and its speed," but remained confident that he and Jennings would take him down. "[A]fter ten or 15 questions Watson is just another good player," he told ZDNet. "I have every confidence that we'll do well." We'll certainly be rooting for them.

Tags: AlexTrebek, ArtificialIntelligence, BradRutter, GameShow, ibm, jeopardy, JeopardyRobot, KenJennings, science, SuperComputer, top, trivia, watson