Are you smarter than a… mega computer?

The answer for me, sadly, is “not quite.”

I recently took on Watson the computer in this NYT trivia challenge that resembles Jeopardy, where Watson beat two all-time champions in a face-off.  It was interesting to see what Watson would have answered for some of the questions, and to note the times when I knew the answer for sure and he was just going to guess, often without really considering the full question but instead getting caught on one word.  In the end, he won with 7 points to my 4, though I will say that I had four questions where I answered correctly but misspelled the word, something that wouldn’t matter in Jeopardy unless we were in the final round.

Scientists say super computers like Watson could be useful for answering questions in hospitals, directing people in train stations and airports, and providing other customer services tasks.  But even knowing how smart this computer is, I wonder how and when this will actually catch on.  The Museum of Science here in Boston had an exhibit for a while where you could ask a computer questions, especially about the museum, and even then it was a hassle to get even moderately correct answers out of it.

If I was in a store and looking for a case for my porkpie and Watson just directed me to the plain old hat section instead of hat storage, I would just go find a real person to answer my question instead.   Take the challenge yourself, and see how you and Watson compare on this question and more, and post your results – and your thoughts about the role of smart computers for our generation – here!

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