Elementary, my dear Watson

Yes, I know Sherlock Holmes never said that, but it made for a good title to an entry on IBM’s Watson computer’s first official Jeopardy match.

Here’s the complete episode:

All in all, Watson did remarkably well, tying Brad Rutter and leaving Ken Jennings in the dust. Of course, Watson is not without his weird mistakes like when he rang in with the same answer Ken Jennings got wrong seconds earlier, which met Alex Trebek’s amused response: “”No, Ken said that.”

Later, Watson slipped up on the question: “Stylish elegance, or students who all graduated in the same year.”

“What is chic?” ventured Watson.

“What is class?” Rutter correctly answered.

They also showed a clip of earlier practice matches where Watson gave an answer so wrong, the stand-in host responded, “That wasn’t wrong; that was REALLY wrong.”  And in the actual official first game, when given the clue, “From the Latin for ‘end’, this is where trains can also originate”, Watson rang in with “finis”, an answer it was 97% confident in, while we saw its next two best guesses were “Constantinople” with 13% and “Pig Latin” with 10%. The answer turned out to be “terminal,” which was even among Watson’s top three guesses.

But those kinds of errors seem few and far between, while most of the time Watson is a force to be reckoned with, knowing everything from Beatles’ songs to The Lord of the Rings. And once asked to name a particular literary villain, Watson knew the answer related to Harry Potter. Had it gotten a chance to ring it, Voldemort would have been its second guess, behind Harry Potter and with Albus Dumbledore as its third highest ranking guess.

And in one instance I think Watson was even cheaply marked incorrect for saying, “What is leg?” when the correct answer was, “missing a leg.” In that instance, Watson had the key element of the answer but simply didn’t clarify that the leg was missing.

Though for all the ridiculous bad answers, Watson can still manage to blow people away with how much it can figure out, like when it correctly guessed the TV show “Survivor” as the answer to the practice game riddle: “Heroes & villains abound! Colby, Coach & Rupert doth return to the fray but Boston Rob, The Tribe hath spoken,” which caused audible gasps and the stand-in host responding, “REALLY? How do you know that?”

Tonight, they continue into Double Jeopardy. This is shaping up to be a great match.

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