Oh, dear. Only a matter of days after we wrote about humanity still having the upper hand over our robotic future overlords, IBM build a computer which is no doubt plotting the final phase of our destruction and laughing robotically.
In case you missed it (like I did because we don’t have Jeopardy in England), IBM’s super-computer Watson, finished wiping the floor with the best human players that American quiz show “Jeopardy!” had to offer. The sad thing? It wasn’t even close.
The battle was spread out over three shows, the first ended on a respectable Watson: $5,000, Brad: $5,000 and Ken: $2,000. The second show was a massacre; Watson: $35,734, Brad: $10,400 and Ken: $4,800. The last show was really just about clawing back some dignity for the human race. We didn’t. Final score? Watson: $77,147, Brad: $24,000 and Ken: $21,600.
In typical whiny human fashion, there are a few causes for complaint in the way that the competition was run. Firstly, despite appearances, Watson isn’t actually listening to the questions and figuring out the answers. The answers are being fed to it by electronic text as soon as the host starts reading, meaning that it has slightly (read: lots, it’s a computer remember) more time to process the answers than it’s flesh based competitors. Furthermore, Watson doesn’t have any fingers to push the buzzer with, so it is wired up to the buzzer electronically, and sent a signal when the buzzers are activated (contestants can’t buzz in until the host finishes asking the question).
This all means that as well as a having a huge, unforgettable database of information at it’s disposal, Watson is also able to take advantage of the one unarguable advantage that machines have over human; reaction time. As you see in the clip above, Watson just gets to the buzzer first a lot of the time. Whether or not Ken and Brad knew the answers, they can’t win if they can’t get a word in.
There’s more. Being a cold and emotionless machine, Watson is impervious to pressure and frustration, which it’s quite clear to see that the others are not. As they get more and more frustrated with the hammering they are getting, Watson just keeps answering the questions. When it’s time to bet (you can gamble your winnings on certain questions to earn extra money), Watson is able to accurately and emotionlessly, calculate the optimal amount to gamble based on it’s probability of being right and the scores of the other players.
In a hope-inspiring show of generosity, Watson’s prize money ($1 million) will be donated to charity along with $0.25 million donated from the prizes of Brad and Ken. We can only hope that this final display of kindness will provide some comfort when our body heat is being harvested as an energy source for the machines and the fate of entire humanity rests in the hands of Keanu Reeves.