IBM's Watson puts the future of gameshow contestants in Jeopardy

It's been a long time coming, but today is the day that IBM's Watson computer takes on a couple of Jeopardy super-stars in what's playing out as a televised Turing test* of sorts. We first got wind of this match way back in May of 2009, so apparently teaching a computer to provide the fiendishly difficult questions that match the provided answers is no small feat.

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Last week IDG News Service's Joab Jackson reported a bit about how this all works, and what the challenges are. A big part of these are natural language processing and the inverted nature of Jeopardy's structure. Now the moment of truth has arrived. The episodes are being recorded today, with an air date of February 14-16. Yesterday a practice round was held, and Watson beat challengers (and Jeopardy champions) Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Engadget was on-hand to witness the round and even got some video of it. It's a surreal tableau, the two human contestants on either end and the monolithic Watson 'standing' between them. During the practice round we could see the potential responses that Watson is considering before he actually picks the most likely one. Given the pace of a Jeopardy round the info goes by pretty quickly, but I look forward to capturing the match on my DVR for more careful inspection. So what's your verdict on this event? Is it an important next step in the evolution of machine intelligence, or just a fun publicity stunt? And can Watson beat the champions? *Yes, I know this isn't technically a Turing Test; allow me this poetic license

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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