"Jeopardy!"'s Man vs. Machine Match Not Trivial

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. - It's the ultimate "Jeopardy!" square-off: the top money winner in "Jeopardy!" history, Brad Rutter, and the record holder for consecutive matches won, Ken Jennings (74), taking on an IBM computer named Watson, CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

(Scroll down to watch a video of this report)

Named for IBM's founder, Watson is a mega mind of 10 refrigerator-sized computer racks running at a speed of 80 trillion operations a second.

Will Watson Crush Humans on Jeopardy?

But this is far beyond Google. Watson "understands" language the way we speak it, the difference between bat, the piece of baseball equipment, and bat, the animal, for instance. It analyzes the equivalent of a million books and whittles hundreds of possible answers down to one.

"Understanding human language, being able to get into the nuance, the implicit nature of it, the ambiguities actually are very, very hard problems," IBM's David Ferrucci, principal investigator for the Watson project, said.

The scientists here have filled Watson with so much information it would take a typical American 250,000 years to learn it. But, as the competition has proven, that makes Watson smart but not perfect.

"What are the '20s?" Jennings said in response to one question Monday.

"No," said host Alex Trebek. "Watson?"

"What is 1920s?" Watson said next.

"No," said Trebek. "Ken said that."

After the first of three nights, Watson was tied for the lead and far ahead of Jennings.

Jeopardy!'s Man Vs Machine, Round 1, Is a Tie

"I sort of felt like I wanted to win as badly here as I ever have before at anything," said Jennings. "This is like the dignity of the species."

But fear not, say the inventors, machines won't make us obsolete.

"The kind of response that a human has to music or to art, to a computer it's frequencies and amplitudes," said Katherine Frase, IBM's vice president of research. "It can learn to analyze it, but it can't feel."

Meaning Watson may rival the human brain but never the human heart.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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