Will Watson the Computer Crush Humankind on Jeopardy?

In this undated publicity image released by Jeopardy Productions, Inc., host Alex Trebek, left, poses with contestants Ken Jennings, center, and Brad Rutter and a computer named Watson in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. On Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, "Jeopardy!" will begin airing two matches spread over three days between Jennings, Rutter and Watson, who was developed by IBM scientists. (AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.) NO SALES AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, left, stands with Ken Jennings, center, Brad Rutter and Watson the computer.
AP

(CBS) Which is better, being smarter than a fifth grader or dumber than a computer?

Seventy-four-time Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings will find out as he and fellow contestant Brad Rutter face Watson the computer for three nights starting Monday. (Of course, Jennings' machine-like memory may not be human either, but at least he wears pants).

So who is Watson?

It's an IBM computer named after IBM's founder, Thomas J. Watson, which already beat the two humans handily in a practice round last week. And it beat them handily because it's a serious, serious machine with boatloads (not a technical term) of memory.

Remember the computer in "Weird Science" or in "Electric Dreams" or even technological world of "The Matrix?" Those computers are downright stupid compared to Watson.

Get this: Watson contains 200 million pages of content, or 1 million books, according to Wired. It can scan all that information - including encyclopedias, books and movie scripts - in fewer than three seconds.

Are Jennings and Rutter doomed? Are we all doomed?

This week, Jeopardy! Next week: The World. The week after that: THE UNIVERSE. Humans, get ready to bow down to your computer overload masters. Run for the hills!

Perhaps that's an overreaction. But if Watson can show up his human counterparts it will be good TV and good technology debate fodder.

Read more about Watson here.

  • David Riedel

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