IBM – Looking back at Watson’s 2011 “Jeopardy!” win
Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of IBM‘s Watson AI system crushing its human competition on “Jeopardy!”
Why it matters: Watson’s victory marked one of the first times Americans could witness an AI system using natural language processing. But, 10 years later, the field still has far to go.
Background: The idea of sending a machine learning system to compete on “Jeopardy!” originated with David Ferrucci, an AI expert then at IBM.
- Ferrucci’s interest was in making machines that “actually understood language in a much deeper way,” and the Watson program — with “Jeopardy!” as a goal — offered a chance to move closer to that goal, which led the company to eventually pick it as one of its “Grand Challenges.”
How it worked: The main obstacle was that Watson would need to be able to parse the language of Jeopardy questions — meaning answers — to search for clues it could then match in its store of information.
- Watson used hundreds of algorithms at every stage of the process to work out the nature of the question, before creating a weighted list of possible answers based on how likely they were to be correct.
What happened: On Feb. 16, 2011, the final episode aired featuring IBM‘s Watson going up against top champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.
- It wasn’t even a contest — by the end of the third and concluding match, Watson was up nearly $50,000.
- Jennings summed up the defeat with a tongue-in-cheek answer to the last Final Jeopardy: “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”
The catch: As impressive as Watson was, Ferrucci points out that “in the end, it was making linguistic predictions. There’s no really deep interpretation.”
- Ferrucci, who left IBM in 2012, is now trying to build AIs that can better interact with human beings at his startup Elemental Cognition.
- “Our focus is on not learning what’s the next word or what’s the next number?” he says. “It’s learning the comprehension.”
The bottom line: Should AI truly be able to do that, our new computer overlords will have truly arrived.