IBM supercomputer wants to win at Jeopardy but can't do Checkers -

A supercomputer built by IBM has, in a test screening, reached the pinnacle of technological achievement by doing rather well on a US quiz show.

IBM Watson, named after the founder of the company Thomas J. Watson, is the culmination of four years of research with the goal of competing on the American quiz show Jeopardy!. For British readers unaware of the popular show, imagine a supercomputer making a guest appearance on Michael Barrymore’s Strike it Lucky in the late eighties or a 486 trashing the shelves in Supermarket Sweep.

The souped-up PC will be competing for a $1 million cash prize against two of Jeopardy!’s most successful contestants, Ken Jennings, who broke the record for most consecutive wins, and Brad Rutter, the winner of the largest prize at $3,255,102.

"After four years, our scientific team believes that Watson is ready for this challenge based on its ability to rapidly comprehend what the Jeopardy! clue is asking, analyze the information it has access to, come up with precise answers, and develop an accurate confidence in its response,” said Dr. David Ferrucci, the scientist leading the IBM Research team that has created Watson.

“Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson's breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives." 

Watson is considered to be a breakthrough achievement in the scientific field of question and answering. The Watson software is powered by an IBM POWER7 server that has been designed to handle the huge amount of tasks that Watson is required to perform at rapid speeds in order to analyze complex language and deliver correct responses to Jeopardy! clues.

This is not the first time that a supercomputer has had the audacity to challenge its human overlords, with Big Blue controversially beating world chess champion Garry Kasparov back in 1997.

It is thought that Intel is working on a supercomputer that stumbles around pubs challenging locals to an arm wrestling match after five pints of strong lager. Beating the quiz box's impossible Deal or No Deal is years away.

While the AI achievements of IBM’s Watson are indeed laudable, there has so far been no attempt to beat a human at the most fierce test of wills - checkers. Or draughts in Britain.

TechEye spoke to professor Ella Guru at the Laboratory for Advanced Draughts Research at Loughborough Technical College to find out why.

“Sure, the computer may be able to answer a few simple general knowledge questions on an American game show, and can cheat its way to a few easy wins against some chess bloke, which everyone knows is just a poor-man's checkers anyway,” said Guru.

“But until they design one of those computers that can beat me at the true thinking-man’s game, I’m sorry but I’m just not impressed.”