Friday, February 18, 2011


Named for one time IBM Chairman Thomas Watson Sr, who trademarked the motivational exhortation THINK in 1935, the supercomputer Watson just won $77 147 on the popular American TV game show Jeopardy, beating two former Jeopardy champions in a best of three series.

IBM assembled a staff of fifteen and a team of PhD's and postgrads from eight universities who laboured for four years to build the game winning computer, which boasts 2880 brains.

Screened over two nights to a jaded American audience, and delivering Jeopardy's best (8.7) audience ratings since 2007, the super computer's win over Jeopardy's hapless human champions spawned headlines like IBM's Watson Dominates, Humanity in Jeopardy and a declaration from one of the vanquished that he welcomes our new masters.

On February 14 Jeopardy was the second most watched television program in America.

In a previous IBM publicity stunt another of its purpose-built supercomputers, Deep Blue, famously beat Chess world champion Gerry Kasparov two-one (with three drawn games) in a best of five chess tournament. "It was", Kasparov said of the army of IBM engineers tending to the chess computer "like playing a patient on life support".

Kasparov accused IBM of cheating and demanded a rematch, but Deep Blue was dismantled afterward.

I was thinking. If humans beat a machine they look smart. If a machine wins, humans still look smart for inventing an engine that could. And in a classic win for public relations, and network television, everyone is happy.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, computers are excellent at c o m p u t i n g.
    I'll be impressed when they can spin a web, construct an elegant nest by collecting twigs, feathers & glitter, assemble fallen tress to build a dam, collect pollen, reproduce themselves through copulation, swim through water, live underground for seven years and then when they appear, sing to attract a mate, do an amazing and intricate courtship dance, be like a dolphin and give the gift of a stone to its partner, feel the slight touch of a newborn babe and be brought to tears. (I could go on, but won't).