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Pinkies Verus The Brain

A pair of pink, squishy organisms will take on a computer (with one mechanical finger) in a 3-day Jeapordy! mini tournament starting tonight (check your local listings for channels and times.) But these are no ordinary pink squishies, and this is certainly no ordinary computer.

Ken Jennings won 74 straight games back in 2004.  Brad Rutter is the all time leading money winner with $3.25 million in winnings (Jenning’s winnings total just over $3 million, second place.)  These are the Kings of Jeopardy!

The third contestant in this special event is Watson.  Watson is an artificial intelligence system that is specifically designed to answer questions posed in language.  Watson hears people say things, and Watson responds accordingly in less than 3 seconds! In fact, Watson understands the subtle main rules of Jeopardy in which the answer is provided, and the contestant must phrase their response in the form of a question.  This is one hell of a sophisticated machine!

Jennings, Rutter, and Watson played 3 practice rounds prior to this tournament.  Each contestant won a game.

Has the HAL-9000 finally arrived? Perhaps. It is quite a technological feat to have designed and built a system that understands natural human language. Researchers scanned some 200 million pages of content — or the equivalent of about one million books — into the system, including books, movie scripts and entire encyclopedias. Watson is powered by 10 racks of IBM POWER 750 servers running Linux, and uses 15 terabytes of RAM, 2,880 processor cores and can operate at 80 teraflops. That’s 80 trillion operations per second!  Just a bit faster than the computer I’m using now to type this.

But Watson is still only a machine, and not a free-thinking device. It’s capacities are impressive, but it is still a long way off from crossing the line of consciousness. I predict the human brains will win the tournament, but Watson will keep it very close.

So tune in starting tonight and see this fascinating machine in action.

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