‘Jeopardy!’ to pit humans against IBM machine

The game show “Jeopardy!” will pit man versus machine this winter in a competition that will show how successful scientists are in creating a computer that can mimic human intelligence.

Two of the venerable game show’s most successful champions – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter – will play two games against “Watson,” a computer program developed by IBM’s artificial intelligence team. The matches will be spread over three days that will air Feb. 14-16, the game show said on Tuesday.

The competition is reminiscent of when IBM developed a chess-playing computer to compete against chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

The “Jeopardy!” answer-and-question format is a different kind of challenge. It often requires contestants to deal with subtleties, puns and riddles and come up with answers fast.

“Watson” is named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. It will look nothing like the computer “maid” on “The Jetsons.” Rather, IBM said its on-screen appearance will be represented by a round avatar.

The computer has already been tested in some 50 games against past “Jeopardy!” champions. But neither IBM nor “Jeopardy!” representatives would say what “Watson’s” record was.

The winner gets a $1 million prize. IBM said it would donate its winnings to charity, while Jennings and Rutter said they would give half of their prize money away.

Jennings had the game show’s longest winning streak, taking 74 games in a row during the 2004-2005 season. Rutter has won more money than any other “Jeopardy!” player, nearly $3.3 million during his original appearance and three subsequent tournaments.

IBM is hoping the technology it exhibits will have some practical uses eventually, for instance helping doctors diagnose illnesses or solving customer problems at technical support centers.

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