Ming-Ho's Blog

Thoughts on IBM's Watson

February 10, 2011

Fifteen years ago on this day, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, quite possibly the greatest chess grandmaster in history. (Kasparov went on to win the tournament, but lost against an upgraded version of Deep Blue a year later.) In four days, IBM’s Watson will take on Ken Jennings, holder of the longest winning streak on Jeopardy!, and Brad Rutter, who holds the record for all-time highest winnings on Jeopardy!.

As a software engineering student and a trivia enthusiast, I’m quite interested in how this will turn out. I’ve been following news on Watson since reading this article in June. And as we get closer to the Feb 14-16 tournament, there’s been more and more hype about Watson in the news. Especially after a clip from the practice round was released, where Watson was winning by the first break.

Instead of reiterating most of the information on Watson that’s publicly available, I’ll offer my own thoughts. I’m no expert on Watson or Jeopardy!, but I have appeared on Reach for the Top, a high school trivia game show. So I’ve got some knowledge on this subject, and I’d like to discuss (what I think are) some of Watson’s advantages and disadvantages.

Why Watson can win

Why Watson can lose

So who will win?

Originally, I did not plan to make a prediction. Mostly because I was undecided, and partly because, well, who wants to be wrong on the Internet? I even intended to come up with an equal number of points for both sides, but it seems I’m having difficulty arguing for Watson’s loss.

To be honest, though, my original thought was that Watson would lose — possibly by a very small margin. I had believed that Watson’s understanding wouldn’t be powerful enough, and that Watson would struggle more with speed than getting the right answer. But this is probably based on earlier — much earlier, probably around June — reports of Watson’s performance, when it was less accurate and far slower. But it’s been eight months, and Watson’s only getting better. It really shows in the practice video.

But based on more recent reports, and my (somewhat unorganized) thoughts above, here is my prediction, for better or for worse: Watson will win. Maybe by a small margin, maybe by a landslide. But Watson will win. I may end up looking like a fool next week, but that is my prediction.

Either way, it’ll be an intense game. February 14-16, 2011. I know where I’ll be.

And to conclude, here’s a quote from Kasparov after he lost to Deep Blue. “Well, at least it didn’t enjoy beating me.”

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