Last night on "Jeopardy!", Watson, an incredibly powerful IBM computer, competed against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the top two human contestants of all time. It was the first stage of a contest that will take place on three consecutive evenings. The result? So far, Watson and Rutter are dead even.
Initially, Watson came out strong. At 80 trillion computations per second, he was arriving at answers before Jennings and Rutter had even registered the questions. The computer racked up thousands of points to Jennings' and Rutter's hundreds before the first commercial break.
But then, the human contestants seemed to regroup. They latched onto the fact that the trick was beating Watson to the quick. Jennings, especially, started buzzing in first and thinking later. This and the fact that Watson gave some wrong answers at crucial moments helped the humans regain their foothold.
Watson is a truly remarkable machine, but his lack of pathos occasionally shone through. For example, when asked about an unusual feature possessed by a one-legged gymnast, Watson's calculations produced the answer "leg," rather than that the gymnast was missing a leg. Apparently it takes a human mind to do those mental gymnastics.
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