<DIV></DIV> <P>Introduction</P> <P>Watson paused. The closest thing it had to a face, a glowing<BR>orb on a flat-panel screen, turned from forest green to<BR>a dark shade of blue. Filaments of yellow and red streamed<BR>steadily across it, like the paths of jets circumnavigating the<BR>globe. This pattern represented a state of quiet anticipation<BR>as the supercomputer awaited the next clue. It was a September<BR>morning in 2010 at IBM Research, in the hills north of<BR>New York City, and the computer, known as Watson, was annihilating<BR>two humans, both champion players, in practice<BR>rounds of Jeopardy! Within months, it would be playing the<BR>game on national television in a million-dollar man vs. machine<BR>match against two of Jeopardy ’s all-time greats.<BR> As Todd Crain, an actor and the host of these test games,<BR>started to read the next clue, the filaments on Watson’s display<BR>began to jag and tremble. Watson was thinking — or coming<BR>as close to it as a computer could. The $1,600 clue, in the category<BR>The Eyes Have It, read: “This facial ware made Israel’s<BR>Moshe Dayan instantly recognizable worldwide.”<BR> The three players — two human and one electronic — could<BR>read the words as soon as they appeared on the big Jeopardy<BR>board. But they had to wait for Crain to read the entire clue<BR>before buzzing. That was the rule. As the host pronounced<BR>the last word, a light would signal that contestants could buzz.<BR>The first to hit the button could win $1,600 with the right answer<BR>— or lose the same amount with a wrong one. (In these<BR>test matches, they played with funny money.)<BR> This pause for reading gave Watson three or four seconds<BR>to hunt down the answer. The first step was to figure out what<BR>the clue meant. One of its programs promptly picked apart<BR>the grammar of the sentence, identifying the verbs, objects,<BR>and key words. In another section, research focused on Moshe<BR>Dayan. Was this a person? A place in Israel? Perhaps a holy<BR>site? Names like John and Maria would signal a person. But<BR>Moshe was more puzzling.<BR> During these seconds, Watson’s cognitive apparatus —<BR>2,208 computer processors working in concert — mounted a<BR>massive research operation through thousands of documents<BR>around Moshe Dayan and his signature facial ware. After<BR>a second or so, different programs, or algorithms, began to<BR>suggest hundreds of possible answers. To us, many of them<BR>would look like wild guesses. Some were phrases that Dayan<BR>had uttered, others were references to his military campaigns<BR>and facts about Israel. Still others cited various articles of his<BR>clothing. At this point, the computer launched its second<BR>stage of analysis, figuring out which response, if any, merited<BR>its confidence. It proceeded to check and recheck facts, making<BR>sure that Moshe Dayan was indeed a person, an Israeli,<BR>and that the answer referred to something he wore on his face.<BR> A person looking at Watson’s frantic and repetitive labors<BR>might conclude that the player was unsure of itself, laughably<BR>short on common sense, and scandalously wasteful of com-<BR>puting resources. This was all true. Watson barked up every<BR>tree from every conceivable angle. The pattern on its screen<BR>during this process, circles exploding into little stars, provided<BR>only a hint of the industrial-scale computing at work. In a<BR>room behind the podium, visible through a horizontal window,<BR>Watson’s computers churned, and the fans cooling them<BR>roared. This time, its three seconds of exertion paid off. Watson<BR>came up with a response, sending a signal to a mechanical<BR>device on the podium. It was the size of a large aspirin bottle<BR>with a clear plastic covering. Inside was a Jeopardy buzzer.<BR>About one one-hundredth of a second later, a metal finger inside<BR>this contraption shot downward, pressing the button.<BR> Justin Bernbach, a thirty-eight-year-old airline lobbyist<BR>from Brooklyn, stood to Watson’s left. He had pocketed<BR>$155,000 while winning seven straight Jeopardy matches in<BR>2009. Unlike Watson, Bernbach understood the sentence. He<BR>knew precisely who Moshe Dayan was as soon as he saw the<BR>clue, and he carried an image of the Israeli leader in his mind.<BR>He gripped the buzzer in his fist and frantically pressed it four<BR>or five times as the light came on.<BR> But Watson had arrived first.<BR> “Watson?” said Crain.<BR> The computer’s amiable male voice arranged the answer,<BR>as Jeopardy demands, in the form of a question: “What is eye<BR>patch?”<BR> “Very good,” Crain said. “An eye patch on his lefteye.<BR>Choose again, Watson.”<BR> Bernbach slumped at his podium. This match with the<BR>machine wasn’t going well.</P> <P>It was going magnificently for David Ferrucci. As the chief scientist<BR>of the team developing the Jeopardy computer, Ferrucci<BR>was feeling vindicated. Only three years earlier, the suggestion<BR>that a computer might match wits and word skills with human<BR>champions in Jeopardy sparked opposition bordering on<BR>ridicule in the halls of IBM Research. And the final goal of<BR>the venture, a nationally televised match against two Jeopardy<BR>legends, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, seemed risky to some,<BR>a bit déclassé to others. Jeopardy, a television show, appeared<BR>to lack the timeless cachet of chess, which IBM computers<BR>had mastered a decade earlier.<BR> Nonetheless, Ferrucci and his team went ahead and built<BR>their machine. Months earlier, it had fared well in a set of<BR>test matches. But the games revealed flaws in the machine’s<BR>logic and game strategy. It was a good player, but to beat Jennings<BR>and Rutter, who would be jousting for a million-dollar<BR>top prize, it would have to be great. So they had worked<BR>long hours over the summer to revamp Watson. This September<BR>event was the coming-out party for Watson 2.0. It was<BR>the first of fifty-six test matches against a higher level of competitor:<BR>people, like Justin Bernbach, who had won enough<BR>matches to compete in Jeopardy ’s Tournament of Champions.<BR> In these early matches, Watson was having its way with<BR>them. Ferrucci, monitoring the matches from a crowded observation<BR>booth, was all smiles. Keen to promote its Jeopardy<BR>phenom, IBM’s advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, had<BR>hired a film crew to follow Ferrucci’s team and capture the<BR>drama of this opening round of championship matches. The<BR>observation room was packed with cameras. Microphones on<BR>long booms recorded the back-and-forth of engineers as they<BR>discussed algorithms and Watson’s response time, known as<BR>latency. Ferrucci, wearing a mike on his lapel, gave a blow-byblow<BR>commentary as Watson, on the other side of the glass,<BR>strutted its new and smarter self.<BR> It was almost as if Watson, like a person giddy with hubris,<BR>was primed for a fall. The computer certainly had its<BR>weaknesses. Even when functioning smoothly, it would make<BR>its share of wacky mistakes. Right before the lunch break,<BR>one clue asked about “the inspiration for this title object in<BR>a novel and a 1957 movie [which] actually spanned the Mae<BR>Khlung.” Now, it would be reasonable for a computer to miss<BR>“The Bridge over the River Kwai,” especially since the actual<BR>river has a different name. Perhaps Watson had trouble understanding<BR>the sentence, which was convoluted at best. But<BR>how did the computer land on its outlandish response, “What<BR>is Kafka?” Ferrucci didn’t know. Those things happened, and<BR>Watson still won the two morning matches.<BR> It was after lunch that things deteriorated. Bernbach,<BR>so frustrated in the morning, started to beat Watson to the<BR>buzzer. Meanwhile, the computer was making risky bets and<BR>flubbing entire categories of clues. Defeat, which had seemed<BR>so remote in the morning, was now just one lost bet away. It<BR>came in the fourth match. Watson was winning by $4,000<BR>when it stumbled on this Final Jeopardy clue: “On Feb. 8,<BR>2010, the headline in a major newspaper in this city read:<BR>‘Amen! After 43 years, our prayers are answered.’ ” Watson<BR>missed the reference to the previous day’s Super Bowl, won by<BR>the New Orleans Saints. It bet $23,000 on Chicago. Bernbach<BR>also botched the clue, guessing New York. But he bet less than<BR>Watson, which made him the first person to defeat the revamped<BR>machine. He pumped his fist.<BR> In the sixth and last match of the day, Watson trailed Bernbach,<BR>$16,200 to $21,000. The computer landed on a Daily<BR>Double in the category Colleges and Universities, which<BR>meant it could bet everything it had on nailing the clue. A<BR>$5,000 bet would have brought it into a tie with Bernbach. A<BR>larger bet, while risky, could have catapulted the computer toward<BR>victory. “I’ll take five,” Watson said.<BR> Five. Not $5,000, not $500. Five measly dollars of funny<BR>money. The engineers in the observation booth were stunned.<BR>But they kept quieter than usual; the cameras were rolling.<BR> Then Watson crashed. It occurred at some point between<BR>placing that lowly bet and attempting to answer a clue about<BR>the first Catholic college in Washington, D.C. Watson’s “front<BR>end,” its voice and avatar, was waiting for its thousands of<BR>processors, or “back end,” to deliver an answer. It received<BR>nothing. Anticipating such a situation, the engineers had prepared<BR>set phrases. “Sorry,” Watson said, reciting one of them,<BR>“I’m stumped.” Its avatar displayed a dark blue circle with a<BR>single filament orbiting mournfully in the Antarctic latitudes.<BR> What to do? Everyone had ideas. Maybe they should finish<BR>the game with an older version of Watson. Or perhaps<BR>they could hook it up to another up-to-date version of the<BR>program at the company’s Hawthorne labs, six miles down<BR>the road. But some worried that a remote connection would<BR>slow Watson’s response time, causing it to lose more often on<BR>the buzz. In the end, as often happens with computers, a reboot<BR>brought the hulking Jeopardy machine back to life. But<BR>Ferrucci and his team got an all-too-vivid reminder that their<BR>Jeopardy player, even as it prepared for a debut on national<BR>television, could go haywire or shut down at any moment.<BR>When Watson was lifted to the podium, facing banks of cameras<BR>and lights, it was anybody’s guess how it would perform.<BR>Watson, it was clear, had a frighteningly broad repertoire.<BR> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Final Jeopardy</b> by <b>Stephen Baker</b> Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Baker. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.