Betting Algorithm in Full Force

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-02-15 Print this article Print


Watson's betting algorithm was in full force, as it found both Daily Double clues in the round. Watson wagered $6,436 and $1,246, respectively. "I won't ask," said the host, Alex Trebek.

Players often take into account other players' scores, their confidence and their gut feeling when making wagers, which allows them to bet aggressively, according to Stephen Baker, the author of "Final Jeopardy," a book about Watson. Watson's calculations are strictly based on its confidence scores, he said.

It's hard for a computer to calculate confidence, according to Nico Schlaefer, a student at Carnegie Mellon University who worked on the Watson project. "Humans usually know whether they know the answer. Watson may not," he said.

Schlaefer worked on the algorithm that allowed Watson to gather relevant source material to find the answer and supporting evidence. Another CMU student on the project, Hideki Shima, worked on the algorithm for Watson to assign a score based on the likelihood of how well the supporting evidence supported each possible answer on its list of candidates.

When asked a question about items stolen from a museum in 2003, Watson had only 32 percent confidence in its first-choice answer. It said "I'm going to guess," before giving the right answer.

IBM hopes to use the deep Q&A technology behind Watson to create systems that require lots of data analysis in a wide variety of fields, including legal, government and health care. "It's limitless, the number of things you could apply this to," IBM Research Program Manager David Shepler said during the broadcast.

In the legal field, lawyers could have access to a "vast, self-contained database" loaded with all of the internal and external information relating to litigation, protecting intellectual property, writing contracts or negotiating an acquisition, Robert Weber, IBM's senior vice president of legal and regulatory affairs, wrote in the National Law Journal.

"Think about the possibilities for medical diagnosis support, for better anticipating the energy needs of utilities, or for protecting insurers, banks and governments from fraud," Weber said.

Social services employees could use a Watson-like system to easily differentiate claims that come in each day, Anne Altman, a general manager in IBM Global Public sector, wrote in Government Technology. The system could separate out the claims for life-saving treatments as well as help caseworkers find similar cases from the past, she said.

Watson appeared to have breezed through Double Jeopardy, but that was apparently not the case. During the course of the game, Watson had crashed multiple times during the taping, said NOVA producer Michael Bicks, who had been at the taping of the show. The half hour match took four hours to tape, he said.

At the end of the game, the IBM team was still nervous about the outcome of the tournament because they knew "all the different ways it could lose," Bicks said.

Watson beat the humans to buzz in and answer 24 of 30 clues. The computer nailed answers on an impressive variety of topics, ranging from architecture to biological science to classical music to "Saturday Night Live."

If Watson wins the three-day-two-game tournament, IBM will donate the full $1 million prize to charity.


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