Apparently gluttons for punishment, 13 years after losing a chess game to a computer, humans have challenged the mighty machine to a round of Jeopardy to be aired in February. The two biggest winners on the show, Ken Jennings ($2.5 million) and Brad Rutter ($3.6 million), will be pitted against an IBM Power 7 server named Watson. (As in IBM founder Thomas J. Watson and not as in, “Elementary, my dear, Watson,” which has actually never been said by Sherlock Holmes. I’ll bet Watson didn’t know that. On second thought, he/it probably did.)
The idea came about as a result of developments in the computer’s ability to recognize and interpret speech. Trivia questions, especially in the Jeopardy “answer-question” format, “can involve clever turns of phrases, riddles and other tricks of speech that can have multiple interpretations.” This kind of skill can allow computers to better diagnose diseases and provide technical support in call centers. So, basically, it’s an awesome thing that’s not going to help the economy in any way, but it’s going to be Humans Vs. Computers Time on TV.
The grand prize will be $1 million, which IBM says it will donate to charity if it wins. The humans have committed to donating half their prize to charity if one of them wins. And they’ll need it, because Watson is out to render them obsolete.