UnNews:Man versus machine on "Jeopardy"

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14 December 2010

The "avatar" representing competitor "Watson" will be computer animation sponsored by Wal-Mart.

NEW YORK, New York -- A computer will be a contestant on the Jeopardy! television game show next February.

IBM is providing a computer called Watson as a contestant. He will take on veteran Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games in the 2004-05 season and singlehandedly caused the ratings to tank, and fan-favorite Brad Rutter.

Watson, an artificial-intelligence computer named after the famous aide to Sherlock Holmes, will take the stage set, but will look nothing like Watson, the cylindrical maid in the cartoon The Jetsons. Rather, IBM said that Watson will be represented by a round "avatar."

Computer intelligence, which experts stress is not the real thing, has inspired fantasy since the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey showed rogue computer "HAL 9000" defying its human masters. Engineers at IBM stressed that, "These days, we are way over 9000." Among the advances since the pathbreaking movie: Watson has a front-panel toggle switch which, when raised, makes it state all answers in the form of a question.

IBM is hoping that the competition will show practical applications for Watson, such as being able to pacify customers calling the help desk without disclosing any actual information, providing an even lower-cost option than transferring incoming calls to Pakistan.