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IBM’s Supercomputer ‘Watson’ Takes Jeopardy Practice Round

The second round of man vs. machine on Jeopardy will begin next month, and if Thursday’s practice game was any indication, the humans really need to step up their game.

Former Jeopardy winners Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter lost by $1,000 to IBM’s Watson DeepQA-based computer in a three-category practice game.

The grand prize for the competition will be $1 million, with second place earning $300,000, and third place earning $200,000.  IBM will donate 100 percent of its winnings to charity, and Rutter and Jennings will donate 50 percent of their winnings.

IBM will split its total winnings between World Vision and World Community Grid, an initiative of the IBM International Foundation. World Vision is an international organization working with families and their communities to reach their full potential by taking on the causes of poverty and injustice. World Community Grid’s mission is to create the world’s largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity, such as new treatments for HIV/AIDS, cancer research and affordable water purification.

Ken Jennings will donate 50 percent of his wining to Village Reach, which works to improve the quality and reach of healthcare in remote communities in the developing world.

Brad Rutter will donate 50 percent of his earnings to Lancaster County Community Foundation, which has supports a wide variety of charitable projects in Lancaster County, Pa.

Watson is considered a breakthrough in the scientific field of question and answering. It is a supercomputer powered by an IBM POWER7 server, which combines machine learning, natural language processing and information retrieval.

According to PC World, many experts are saying Watson winning Jeopardy will be more challenging, than when IBM’s chess-playing computer Deep Blue beat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov.

The reason is with chess all the moves are defined with a clear set of rules, and with Jeopardy, Watson has to face a bigger challenge, which is decoding the human language.

“Natural language processing is so difficult because of the many different ways the same information is express,” said David Ferrucci, IBM’s lead manger for Watson, to IDG News.

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