Geek Stuff

Friday Fun: Watch the IBM Watson Computer Against Jeopardy Champions

If you’re a fan of Jeopardy and computers, this could be a dream come true.  Over the last week IBM has been testing out their latest creation, a question-answering super computer.  With the intent to create something similar to what you’d see from the onboard computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Watson has become the greatest contestant that Jeopardy has ever seen.

What is Watson?

Watson is a computer system powered by 10 racks of IBM Power 750 servers, that pans out to roughly 2880 CPUs   It runs on Linux, has 15 terabytes of memory, and is capable of operating at 80 teraflops; quite the step up from the average computer’s 75 gigaflop capacity.  But, those are just system specs.  Watson itself is the natural-language comprehensive software application that makes uses of all of it.

In the 4 episodes below, Watson will be going up against Jeopardy champions; Ken Jennings who has a record winning streak of 76 matches, and Brad Rutter the $3.5 million Jeopardy total prize money winner.

Ready to see it in action?  First, take a look at the unaired practice match:


Now for the real thing, as featured on the Jeopardy television show!


What do you think about this new technology?  IBM has made it pretty clear that we are no where near the capability to make a “Skynet” type artificial intelligence, so have no fear of the “machines taking over.”  But, being a Star Trek fan, I can’t wait to get this kind of system put in my house –probably 3+ years from now?



  1. Juniperbush  

    “I for one welcome our new computer overlords -Ken Jennings” -Michael Scott

  2. Nigel Green  

    Are we to assume that Watson’s input of the question is the same as the 2 contestants – by audio and vision – not really likely – audio maybe. At what point does watson start its processing on each question?

    • Watson_IBM  

      Questions are sent at the same time that Trebek starts reading them, so in terms of processing time it is a fair match. The questions are sent via a text file, Watson cannot see or hear.
      However Watson does have an unfair buzzer, and you can see Ken Jennings frustration at this. Though unbalanced, an early buzzer doesnt discredit Watson. The point behind these matches is to help IBM both improve accuracy and showcase their work thus far.

      • So how do the buzzers work? Is it not the first time person to buzz wins?

        • Watson_IBM  

          Essentially, you have to buzz the second Trebek stops talking. This is also signaled by a white light appearing on your podium. If you buzz early it locks you out temporarily, but if you buzz too late someone else will get it. Watson is able to time this perfectly every time, though periodically the white light will lag behind a fraction of a second. Since Watson is programmed to respond to the light circuit activating, it gives the humans a chance to answer first if they can get it in that 0.5 second window, or if Watson doesn’t know the answer for sure he will wait to respond.

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