Man vs. Machine Finale: Watson Whips the Humans in 'Jeopardy!' Challenge

IBM supercomputer Watson on Jeopardy!
IBM supercomputer Watson on Jeopardy!

For Watson, it was elementary. IBM's (IBM) mighty supercomputer scored big on Wednesday, landing the title of new Jeopardy! champ. No matter how hard Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings -- the two human contestants pitted against the machine -- tried, they were just no match for IBM's brainy Watson supercomputer.

Watson racked up total winnings of $77,147 in the two-game challenge played over three days, powering past Rutter's $21,600 score and Jennings $24,000.

In Day 3 of the man vs. machine contest, Watson, a Jeopardy! newbie, and Rutter, a reigning champ whose $3.26 million is the most money any Jeopardy! contestant has ever won, both roughly doubled their winnings from the previous day. But Jennings, who has the longest streak of Jeopardy! game wins, got in the groove on the third day to advance to second place after trailing the previous two days and wrapped up the contest by increasing his score by fivefold.

Here's a quick look at how the contestants' cumulative scores progressed over Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:

  • Watson: Day 1 - $5,000; Day 2 - $35,734; Day 3 - $77,147

  • Jennings: Day 1 - $2,000; Day 2 - $4,800; Day 3 - $24,000

  • Rutter: Day 1 - $5,000; Day 2 - $10,400; Day 3 - $21,600

Jennings, who watched Watson take the lead early in the third game, added a touch of Simpsons-like humor by scribbling on his answer board: "I for one welcome our new computer overlords," according to a report in the Long Island Press.

A Short-Lived Human Lead

During the first segment on Day 3, Watson moved ahead quickly but hit a road bump as the category progressed to "Actors Who Direct," noted a play-by-play post in All Things Digital. Jennings swooped in and took advantage of Watson's weakness in providing questions that are more conceptual in nature. For example, Jennings nailed the question concerning the section of a newspaper placed within the paper's folds, answering "What is an insert?"

And in the second segment, according to AllthingsD, Jennings even pulled ahead to take the lead in Game 2 on the wings of the "Actors Who Direct" category and hitting a Daily Double, giving humans their first lead of the entire match. The third segment also appeared promising initially for Jennings, as Watson missed a Daily Double in the nonfiction category regarding Dorthy Parker and an answer of The Elements of Style, according to the AllThingsD post.

But things began to take turn against Jennings in the later half of the third segment when Watson found yet another Daily Double in the "nonfiction" category and answered it correctly, making Jennings grimace, according to a New York Times report.

As the contestants entered Final Jeopardy, they put down their wagers on the category of "20th Century Novelists" before hearing the question regarding Dracula. All three parties answered correctly regarding author Bram Stoker, but wagering strategies appeared to have changed, according to the AllThingsD post. Watson threw a long Final Jeopardy bet of $17,973, while Jennings went short with a $1,000 wager.

That nailed the coffin as the closely followed three-day Jeopardy! challenge came to a wrap.

Preparing for Disasters

Big Blue's Watson also landed a $1 million purse, which game organizers announced would be evenly split between two nonprofits, World Vision and the World Community Grid.

The World Community Grid is particularly relevant to IBM's work because the group uses donated unused computer time and reallocates it other organizations that need computing power. Indeed, Watson itself is an example of a computer grid, with 90 IBM Power 750 servers laced together with shared memory. All tied together, it allows this computational beast to process the equivalent of 1 million books per second.

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World Vision carries a different focus: It addresses the needs of children living in poverty around the world, and it helps shore up regions where natural disasters frequently occur, helping them to better prepare them for the next disaster.

Second-place winner Jennings received $300,000 as part of his purse. He's earmarked half of his winnings for VillageReach, which provides health care for underserved communities in remote locations across the world's developing countries. The organization notes that a donation of 20 cents can provide a vaccine that could potentially save a life. That factoid itself may make a great Jeopardy! question regarding the number of lives that Jennings' donation could potentially save.

And third-place winner Rutter plans to provide half of his $200,000 winnings to the Lancaster County Community Foundation in Pennsylvania. The organization held a Jeopardy Watch Party tonight for locals in Rutter's hometown to view the game and root for their donor.

A Ratings Knockout, Too

If the first two days of the contest are any indication, today's finale should be another strong audience draw for CBS (CBS), which produces the show. The network says Watson has racked up some of CBS's best household ratings in years. On Monday, Jeopardy! scored its best single-day performance in four years, with an 8.7 household rating in metered markets. And on Tuesday, it soared even higher with a single-day rating of 9.5 -- its highest level since May 25, 2005, or nearly six years.

One can only imagine the household ratings that the ultimate contest will score when Wednesday's figures are available. One thing we do know now, though, is who (or what) won. Congratulations, Watson.

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