Very Interesting Things About Last Night’s Jeopardy! Game (Spoilers)


It was quite interesting to watch Jeopardy! this morning to see Watson take on Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings again.  While it is notable to see that had this been a one-day game Watson would have won, there were some particularly interesting points in the game.

The first was the Double Jeopardy in which Watson didn’t know the answer/question but still had to provide one.  It guessed.  Think about that for a second: a guess is really just a set of solutions we’re not sure about but propose anyway.  This is exactly what Watson did – he had a set of answers and picked the one with the highest confidence level (still below an actual confidence level), which as it turned out was correct.  So in that sense, we just witnessed the dawn of computers guessing.  That’s fairly telling, because that’s one more thing that computers can now do that before was purely in the purview of humanity.

Such guessing was more telling in Final Jeopardy!, when the category was US Cities and Watson guessed Toronto instead of Chicago.  I’m not quite sure whether it was over-emphasis on Natural Language Processing (NLP) on the part of the IBM researchers, but there should have been a check somewhere in the code that looked at the category title and combined it with the possible answers.  I’m left wondering if Watson’s performance has looked solely at the questions this entire time without taking into account the boundaries based on categories.

I’ve also been impressed with Alex Trebek’s handling of the whole thing.  He treats Watson as any other contestant, which is exemplary, though he didn’t attempt to shake Watson’s hand.  Of course he wouldn’t, as Watson has no hands!  However, it made me think that in the not too distant future that there may come a Jeopardy! show where Trebek will end up having to shake the hand of the first robot to play.

Finally, is it me or did Brad Rutter look quite annoyed at the end of the game?  If I had to guess (ha), I would suggest that it’s not because he was beaten, but because he knew all the answers!  I have a feeling that he just can’t signal fast enough, as he only managed to buzz in on a couple of questions, and in those questions Watson wasn’t buzzing in anyway.  Ken Jennings doesn’t appear to be signaling in much at all, and most of his answers came when he had control of the board.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens tonight!

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