Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

That Human Vs. Machine Practice Round of "Jeopardy" Didn't End the Way You Heard It Did

If you consider the philosophical implications of the struggle between humanity and machines to be superior at certain tasks, then tonight is a big night.

Humanity’s best champions at the game show “Jeopardy”–Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter–are going up against the IBM supercomputer, named Watson, in the first of a three-night televised match.

But new details are starting to emerge about the highly anticipated game. Much was made in the press coverage of a warm-up match witnessed by several reporters last month when it seemed that Watson had won. According to a portion of the final chapter of a book on the match, by technology journalist Stephen Baker, that was not the case.

The assembled reporters saw only 15 clues, not a full game. When the reporters left, Watson was ahead, with a score of $4,400 to $3,400 for Jennings and $1,200 for Rutter. After the reporters left, the match continued. Jennings went on to win the full match, with $50,000 to $39,000 for Watson; Rutter finished third with $10,000. In fact, when it was over, Jennings pointed at the computer and exclaimed, “Game over!” as if he were actually trying to taunt the machine. Baker posted the opening section of the book’s final chapter on his blog today.

Baker’s book also reveals that Watson has a weakness: The Final Jeopardy portion of the game, where players can make bets based on the confidence in their answers, and where speed to the buzzer–where Watson has an advantage during normal clues–doesn’t matter. Jennings figured out this weakness in Watson’s game play and used it to his advantage.

Baker’s book, “Final Jeopardy,” has been coming out in pieces. The first several chapters were released in e-book format last month, and once the match has aired, the final chapter describing the televised match will be released, and then the hardcover version of the book will hit bookstores this Thursday.

How will it all end? You’ll have to watch “Jeopardy” starting tonight–and read Baker’s book–to find out. I’ll be posting more on this after the match airs in the Eastern Time zone tonight.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus