Watson (undated photo)

PASADENA, CA–Nova today presented a panel on the “Smartest Machine on Earth”–Watson, a computer designed to compete on Jeopardy!

Watson wasn’t on stage, however. We were told that the machine, at the size of 10 refrigerators, is too big even for the Jeopardy! stage.

Most human Jeopardy! contestants are the size of around eight refrigerators.
IBM’s David Ferucci is one of the brains behind Watson, named after the IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. The project has been in the works for four years. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of testing,” he says. If Watson crashes during the taping, joked Jeopardy! executive producer Harry Friedman, “we’ll call the Geek squad.”
Watson will play a three game tournament against Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings (who won 74 straight games) and Brad Rutter, the long-running game show’s all time champ. That tourney will run on Jeopardy! over three nights (Feb. 14-16). The Nova special will air Feb. 9 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

IBM’s Ferruci: confident
Can Watson possibly beat brainiacs like Jennings and Rutter to the buzzer? The IBM team fitted him with an artificial “hand” and say he’s pretty quick. Where he breaks down is sorting out the puns and subtleties of some of the answers.

There is real money on the table, a million bucks, with half going to charity except if Watson wins. Then all of it goes to charity.
This computer doesn’t sound that smart.
One advantage Watson has, says Ferucci, is that he doesn’t sweat. In tests he’ll blow a big daily double and be right back at the buzzer the very next question.
A similar IBM computer, “Big Blue,” beat chess champion Garry Kasperov a few years ago. “Well, at least it didn’t enjoy beating me,” cracked Kasperov.

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