IBM's Watson Falls to N.J. Congressman Rush Holt in Mock 'Jeopardy' Round

 
 
By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-03-01 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

New Jersey can be proud of its nerdy congressman, the only lawmaker who managed to beat IBM's supercomputer Watson at a "Watson vs. Members" mock "Jeopardy" tournament on Capitol Hill.

Hey, New Jersey. Instead of "My Congressman IS a rocket scientist!" bumper stickers, it's time for one that says, "My Congressman beat Watson!"

Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey beat IBM's supercomputer Watson in one round of a mock "Jeopardy!" tournament Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C. Five members of Congress played in a bipartisan "Watson vs. Members" tournament, including Holt and Reps. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Jim Himes of Connecticut, Jared Polis of Colorado and Nan Hayworth of New York.

"I played a full round against @IBMWatson tonight and was proud to hold my own: the final tally was Holt $8,600, Watson $6,200," Holt, a Democrat who represents parts of Monmouth and Middlesex counties, posted on Twitter shortly after the match.

Cassidy, the third player in that round, scored $1,000, according to The Hill.

There were three rounds of play, and two lawmakers played Watson in each round. Holt and Cassidy faced Watson in the first round, while Himes, a former Rhodes scholar, played in both the second and third rounds.

Polis and Himes played in the second round, but could not keep up with Watson, which swept the "Always in Fashion" category. Polis had $6,800 and Himes had $7,600 against Watson's $22,500.

The non-televised event, organized by IBM, was open only to IBM employees and congressional staffers. At the end of the tournament, Watson had amassed 40,300 points, over the humans' combined total of 30,000.

Holt, a five-time "Jeopardy!" winner more than 30 years ago under original host Arthur Fleming, is a nuclear physicist who has authored scientific papers in research journals. He even owns a patent titled a "method for maintaining a correct density gradient in a non-convecting solar pond."

"Although Watson was just a little Atari when I was on the show 3 decades ago, he's grown up & I'm slower than I was then. I watch in awe," Holt said on Twitter before the match.

Watson analyzes "real language," or spoken language, as opposed to simple or keyword-based questions, to understand the question, and then looks at the millions of pieces of information it has stored to find a specific answer. Powered by 10 racks of Power 750 servers running Linux, containing 15TB of RAM and 2,880 processor cores operating at 80 teraflops, Watson runs thousands of simultaneous analytics algorithms to sift through more than 15 terabytes of information stored in its "brain," a DB2 database.

"Ok. So I came in third behind Rush Holt (nuclear physicist) and @ibmWatson (supercomputer) but beat all the other humans. I'll take that," Himes said on Twitter. Himes was the only lawmaker to play Watson twice.

After the event, Holt praised the supercomputer, noting that the technology can be extremely useful for tough decision-making in fields such as medical diagnosis, air traffic control or situations that require piecing together of knowledge, according to CNN.

The event was meant to "foster a conversation about how technology can positively impact society" and U.S. global competitiveness, IBM said. Holt said research was necessary to create jobs, a sentiment echoed by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

"Absolutely-we must invest in our future! MT @IBMWatson: Hope #ibmwatson also showed potential positive impact on science #education," Pelosi wrote.

IBM and Watson have been busy, as Watson was also in Germany for the opening ceremony at tech trade show CeBIT. IBM CEO Sam Palmisano talked about Watson's natural language query system and how it could be used in finance and health care systems in his speech.

"It's a search with a brain," he said, just before the beginning of a Watson demonstration, in which attendees heard Watson answer health care-related questions.

Just as there were some memorable moments in the Man vs. Machine tournament (Toronto?), Watson's shining moment in the congressional match-up came with the clue, "Ambrose Bierce described this as 'a temporary insanity curable by marriage.'"

Watson answered, "What is love?"

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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