Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Watson’s first day


Watson did very well on its first day. In order to have time to explain things and introduce the concept of Watson, they set it up so that only two games are played over the three days. The first day was for the first round, and the second day (this evening) will have Double Jeopardy and Final Jeopardy.

It wasn’t surprising that there were a few glitches, where Watson didn’t fully get the question — for instance, answering leg, rather than missing a leg, in describing the anatomical oddity of an Olympic winner. And, as we knew might happen, Watson repeated an incorrect answer from Ken Jennings, because the computer has no way to know what the other contestants have said.

What I found interesting, though, is that Watson does have a very strong advantage with the buzzer. Despite the attempts to smooth that out by setting up a mechanical system whereby Watson sends a signal to cause a button to be physically pushed, and despite whatever the humans can do through anticipation, it’s clear that people just can’t match the computer’s reactions. Almost every time Watson was highly confident of its answer — a green bar (see below) — it won the buzz. Surely, on things like the names of people in Beatles songs, Mr Jennings and Mr Rutter were as confident of the answer as Watson was, and had the answers ready well before Alex finished reading. Yet Watson won the buzz on every one of those.

It was fun to have a little of Watson’s thought process shown: at the bottom of the screen, we saw Watson’s top three answer possibilities, along with its confidence for each, shown as a percentage bar that was coloured red, yellow, or green, depending upon the percentage. That was interesting whether or not Watson chose to buzz in. On a Harry Potter question for which the answer was the villain, Voldemort, Watson’s first answer was Harry Potter — it didn’t understand that the question was looking for the bad guy, even though the whole category related to bad guys. But its confidence in the answer was low (red, and well below the buzz threshold), it didn’t buzz in, and Mr Rutter gave the correct answer (which had been Watson’s second choice).

Of course, they didn’t use any audio or video clues, according to the agreement — Watson can neither hear nor see — but they didn’t seem to pull any punches on the categories or types of questions. It feels like a normal Jeopardy! game.

Oh, and by the way: the TiVo has it marked as copy-protected, so I can’t put it on a DVD. Damn. I don’t know whether regular Jeopardy! games are that way or not; I’ve never recorded one before.


The Ridger, FCD said...

I find looking at the second-choice answers quite fascinating. "Porcupine" for what stiffens a hedgehog's bristles, for instance. There is no way that would be a human's second choice (after keratin). Watson is clearly getting to the answers by a different route than we do.

Barry Leiba said...

I've just finished watching the second day's show, so now I understand your comment. I'll counter-comment as the main entry for tomorrow.