Playing Jeopardy? It's elementary dear Watson

 Playing Jeopardy? It's elementary dear Watson


IBM Israel's David Carmel and Dafna Sheinwald helped build the non-human contestant set to take on Jeopardy champs in February.

By Rivka Borochov

1984 was the year George Orwell predicted that Big Brother would be watching us. The same year, Alex Trebek became the host of the long-running American TV game show Jeopardy. Are the events linked? An IBM computer named Watson may be able to help – if your question is formed as an answer, that is.

Watson is one of the latest artificial intelligence (AI) projects developed by an international team of about a dozen IBM collaborators from the United States, Israel, China and Japan. Watson will play against two top Jeopardy champions on February 14-16 and has already been sparring against them in warm-up exercises.

Two Israeli computer scientists, Dafna Sheinwald and David Carmel of the Haifa IBM R&D Labs in Israel, made a significant contribution to creating Watson. Their task was to mold the supercomputer’s "mind."

‘I don’t think it will win’

Sheinwald will fly in for the taping in New York next month and is eager to see how Watson will perform against real-life humans. "Of course I am excited. [Watson] is going to compete against the top two winners from Jeopardy, but I don’t think it will win," she says realistically. The million-dollar prize would in any case go to charity.

The real winners, she says, are the scientists who had a hand in creating Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson and also after the fictional assistant to Sherlock Holmes. "I think we already got our award by working on such an exciting project, being part of something so big and seeing such a huge system, with all of us working together," she says.