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Wicked cool man vs. machine moments

As IBM’s Watson steps into the 'Jeopardy!' ring it takes a lot of history with it

By , Network World
February 15, 2011 03:19 PM ET

Network World - As IBM's Watson computer digs in for its competition on "Jeopardy!" this week, we are reminded that this is the first in a long series of classic man vs. machine moments. Here we have a look at some of the famous real and not so real man vs. machine action.

The "Jeopardy!" King? If the preliminary test rounds are any indication, the IBM natural language supercomputer known as Watson will give former "Jeopardy!" human champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter a serious run for their money this week. Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is programmed to rival the human ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed and accuracy. Watson's software runs on IBM POWER7 servers optimized to handle the massive number of tasks it must perform at rapid speeds to analyze complex language and deliver correct responses to "Jeopardy!" clues. IBM has been prepping Watson for the show by playing more than 50 "sparring games" against former "Jeopardy!" Tournament of Champions contestants and Watson has passed the same "Jeopardy!" contestant test that humans take to qualify to play on the show. "Jeopardy!" requires forms of reasoning that are quite sophisticated, using metaphors, puns and puzzles that go beyond basic understanding of the language. As a challenge problem, "Jeopardy!" will stretch the state of the art, IBM stated.

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How about a nice game of chess? In what was certainly one of the most celebrated chess matches of all time, IBM's Deep Blue computer beat world champ Garry Kasparov for the first time in 1996. The IBM machine was able to calculate 200 million chess moves per second, IBM claimed. According to Computerworld: "Deep Blue's tour de force was the culmination of an eight-year, multimillion-dollar research project at IBM that led directly to advances in chip design, parallel-processing techniques and algorithms. That research continues as part of IBM's $100 million Blue Gene project, which during the next decade will build a machine operating at 1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second (1 petaFLOPS) to attack problems such as protein folding, molecular dynamics and drug design." Kasparov famously came back to win the best of the six-game match. In 2003 Kasparov and the IBM Deep Junior computer played to a draw in a $1 million International Chess Federation match.

Poker face: In 2007 researchers from the University of Alberta played their Polaris poker system against poker professionals Phil Laak and Ali Eslami at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. The competition consisted of four duplicate matches, with 500 hands per match. In each duplicate match, the same cards were dealt to both pairs of players, human and bot, but with the seating reversed. After 16 hours of play over two days, Polaris tied the first round, won the second and lost the last two. At the time, Jonathan Schaeffer, leader of the computer science team that created Polaris, said: "We have developed a format that has helped us factor out luck and make it into a scientific experiment to determine how good humans are relative to the best program in the world." It was actually the second time Laak had faced a University of Alberta poker program. In a 2005 match in Las Vegas, Laak beat Vexbot, a predecessor of Polaris, partly because he played better, but also because he had far more luck that day, as Laak stated.

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