IBM's Watson Odds-On Favorite for Jeopardy Win

Can Big Blue's technology put an end to human dominance of the long-running quiz show? One betting house suggests it's likely.

An upcoming episode of the popular quiz show "Jeopardy," pitting an IBM computer called Watson against two past contestants, is causing many people to question whether or not a computer can outsmart the human brain when competing in categories known for employing puns and wordplay. Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was built by a team of IBM scientists who set out to accomplish a "grand challenge"-build a computing system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.

With the famous showdown between man and machine looming, bookmaker said it was "sad to report" that IBM's Watson is the odds-on favorite to beat both Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. IBM's supercomputer will compete in an edition of the popular U.S. quiz show next month for a prize of $1 million. The show will be screened over three days from Feb. 14-16.

The odds of Jennings, who once won 74 Jeopardy games in a row, of winning are 5-2. Rutter, who scored the most money with winnings of more than $3 million, also has a 5-2 chance. "Jeopardy is seen as the ultimate challenge in the artificial intelligence world because the game's clues involve analyzing subtle meanings, irony, riddles and other complexities where humans excel and machines do not," the company's report said.

Dr. David Ferrucci, a research staff member and leader of the Semantic Analysis and Integration Department at IBM's T.J. Watson's Research Center, is the lead on the Watson project. Dubbed DeepQA, the project focuses on advancing natural language question answering using massively parallel evidence-based computing. "The opportunity to pursue an exploratory project that took an area of science that I was most interested in, and to bring together a team of world-class people, and push the limits-it doesn't get any better than that," he said.

The Watson computer system designed by Ferrucci's team represents the integration and advancement of many search, natural language processing and semantic technologies, his IBM biography noted. Following the Jeopardy challenge, Ferrucci said he and his team plan to apply DeepQA technologies to areas such as medicine, government and law to drive advances in computer-supported intelligence and decision-making.

While Watson is gearing up to dominate the game show field, IBM is also predicting the small to medium-size business (SMB) market is gearing up to spend more on their IT budgets this year. Although that news might not be as exciting as the thought that we're slowly, but surely, entering a scenario out of The Terminator, it suggests small business owners are expressing an increased degree of confidence about the U.S. economic recovery.

The company reported more than half of the 2,000 midsize companies (in 20 countries) it polled are planning to increase their IT budgets during the next 12 to 18 months. Specifically, 53 percent of responding IT managers expect their budgets to increase over the next 12 to 18 months. The reports indicated these companies are planning new investments in a number of hardware, software and service areas, such as business analytics, cloud computing, collaboration, mobility and customer-relationship packages.