Last week, entertainment headlines in the U.S. were abuzz about the challenge provided by IBM and its “Watson” artificial intelligence computer pitted against two super smart humans on the game show Jeopardy.  In my view, it was not even a contest.

The super hyped Watson challenged two of the game show’s most successful winning contestants, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  My wife has long been a fan of Jeopardy, and urged me to watch each of the three challenge episodes. Since my background is so grounded in information technology, she figured that I would enjoy seeing a computer kick butt. It was actually painful to watch.

Both of the human contestants were super smart, but were no competition for Watson, who was pre-programmed with over 200 million pages of stored content representing just about every tidbit of trivia known to man.  This particular challenge was hosted at IBM’s Hawthorne Lab where Watson’s equivalent of 10 refrigerators of computing resides.

Readers who are familiar with the Jeopardy game show know that contestants are given an answer and are expected to buzz first with the appropriate question to correctly match that answer. For the most part, the humans did not have a ghost of a chance to be able to push their buttons before Watson could.  You see Watson’s 10 racks of 90 parallel servers calculate an accuracy confidence factor at the speed of light before any human brain can push a button.  Some bloggers noted in was the equivalent of a super- fast open-book exam for Watson, which I certainly echo as well. CIO Magazine noted the brute detail of Watson’s compute power which includes the equivalent of 21.6 terabytes of data. It was pathetic to watch.  It was like Jennings and Rutter taking on Sarah Palin on Jeopardy.  While watching, my wife and I both noted that the humans should have been granted a time-delay handicap to compensate for a computer’s speed.  Then again, when some deductive reasoning was required to come-up with the correct answer, alas Watson was exposed.

In the end, the final tally was a bit more reasonable since the humans staged a comeback in the final two days.  Final tally:

Watson                $77,147

Jennings              $24,000

Rutter                   $21,600

Watson gets the total prize of $1 million which IBM will donate to the charities World Vision and World Community Grid. IBM also gets a ton of marketing visibility and notoriety associated with the challenge.

Like others commenting on the blogosphere, your mind has many thoughts while watching this event.

Will computers like Watson someday do our jobs?  I thought about that classic movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey, where computer HAL decided to take matters under control and overrule his human handlers. Has this era arrived?  What will we do when Watson is simultaneously posting Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In updates while analyzing, optimizing and distributing the supply chain optimization and procurement plans for the next six months?

Perhaps a new hobby should be on all of our to-do lists.

Bob Ferrari