Man Vs. Machine On Jeopardy

Two Massachusetts universities have a stake in Monday night's high-profile contest between man and machine on the TV game show "Jeopardy!"

The University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are holding parties Monday night to watch two of "Jeopardy!’s" biggest all-time winners go up against a computer. That’s because some of the professors and students helped IBM develop the computer named Watson.

The company’s lead researcher for the project, David Ferrucci, said teaching a computer to answer game show questions is anything but trivial.

"Language is uniquely human. We understand each other, you and I, because we have a common experience," Ferrucci said. "The computer doesn’t have that common experience."

Ferrucci said the help from Massachusetts researchers was critical in developing the machine. In fact, some UMass-Amherst grads, like Eric Brown, now work for IBM on the project.

Brown says he's confident in Watson's capabilities, both on the show and in the real world.

"We see this as a tremendous technology with tremendous potential for solving really interesting problems," he said. Brown says Watson could potentially help with human dilemmas such as those doctors face when making health care decisions.

The "Jeopardy!" showdown airs Monday night and goes for two more days.

This program aired on February 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Curt Nickisch

Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live