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Mar 02, 2011

A Potpourri of Computational Entertainment

By Doug Rock

A Potpourri of Computational Entertainment

Who would have predicted that a Watson wager would elicit brisk laughter from the estimated 250 IBMers at a three-day Rochester, Minn., viewing party for the “Jeopardy!” IBM Challenge?

Attendees had come to the afternoon event to watch Watson. And when “Jeopardy!” contestants pick a Daily Double question, they are asked how much of their winnings they would like to wager on the answer. Contestant responses are generally rounded to the nearest $100, $50 or $10. Not our dear Watson. Having approximately $8,400 in the bank, the computer wagered not $2,000 or even $2,100, but $2,127, on a $400 nonfiction-category question. Watson lost.

Watching Watson miss a beat was almost refreshing. It had built a dominating lead at the close of the second day of competition. And the wagering exactitude was the type of geeky quirk that helped endear viewers to IBM’s latest supercomputer, a technological marvel driven by a frontal lobe of POWER7 processors, the same that reside in the IBM Power Systems servers manufactured at the Rochester facility.

My favorite Watson response was one he didn’t have the opportunity to audibly answer. The question was: “Name the VO5 hair conditioner that averages $1 online.”

Another contestant beat Watson to the punch. But, in an entertaining twist, the three answers Watson was contemplating were visible to the audience throughout the tournament. Watson’s top answer? “What is butter?”

I was secretly hoping to see Watson compete against Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. Instead, the competitors were past “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. In the three-part “Jeopardy!” IBM Challenge, Watson dispatched of both.

For the final day of the Challenge, IBM Systems Magazine sent a video team to Rochester to record the viewing party. Our team also heard IBMer Mark Olson’s insight on the processing technology that Watson shares with the servers many IBM Power Systems customers rely on to keep their businesses running. You’ll find the video on our website.

In addition to the video, don’t miss the March issue of our Power Systems edition, which features an interview with Dr. David Ferrucci, Watson principal investigator, IBM Research.

One of the questions Watson uncovered on the final day of the competition was: “A poor workman blames these ...” Watson’s correct answer: “What are tools?” The IBM brainiac certainly had the tools to impress “Jeopardy!” viewers and it will be even more exciting to see how these transforming computer technologies will affect our future.


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Why did Dr. Watso answer Toronto when the question asked what U.S. city?

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