The producers of Jeopardy! and IBM are in discussions to allow an IBM supercomputer known as Watson to compete on the show against human competition. According to The New York Times, if Watson is able to beat the human competition the field of artificial intelligence will have made a leap forward.
IBM has had success in the past building super computers that were able to best human competitors. In 1997, IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer was able to defeat chess world champion Garry Kasparov in a match.
The difference between chess where all pieces have a known value and Jeopardy! is that the trivia questions asked in the game show have a wide and greatly varying range of relationships. These relationships are open to interpretation and the interpretations have to be made very quickly.
The IBM researchers who created Watson -- an homage to IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. -- have said that they are not confident yet that their creation could compete well on the show. The New York Times reports that human champions are able to provide correct response 85% of the time to questions asked.
David A. Ferrucci, an AI researcher at IBM said, "The big goal is to get computers to be able to converse in human terms. And we’re not there yet.”
The contest is an effort by the IBM engineers to choose "grand challenges" that will help them make significant technical progress in AI. The rules proposed for the contest will force Watson to emulate all human qualities. Questions posed to Watson will be in text format while players will see text and hear the questions spoken by the show's host.
The computer will offer answers to the question via a synthesized voice and will choose its own follow up categories. IBM says that for the show, the computer would not be connected to the internet. How Watson will be presented and what gender the computer will be are under consideration. A screen and a projected avatar are one consideration.
Jeopardy! executive producer Harry Friedman said, "We’ve only begun to talk about it. We all agree that it shouldn’t look like Robby the Robot."
IBM will move a Blue Gene supercomputer to L.A. for the show.