Why IBM failed with Watson

IBM boss Arvind Krishna (center), predecessor Ginni Rometty, OpenAI boss Sam Altman

The former AI pioneer has fallen behind.

(Photo: Getty Images, Mauritius, Reuters, Bloomberg [M])

Yorktown Heights, New York It’s a Wednesday night when millions of Americans are discovering the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) for the first time. In their own living room. On September 14, 2011, American television will broadcast “Jeopardy”, the country’s most popular game show. On one side a person: Ken Jennings, longtime record holder. On the other, a machine: the Watson artificial intelligence, built by the IBM technology group.

The ratings soar to an all-time high. America is puzzling: Can an AI successfully master a task previously unsolvable for computers: understand a freely worded question and spit out a correct answer? A Respond. And not a long list of documents that might contain the answer, as Google provides.

The result is historic: the Watson computer, the size of ten refrigerators and loaded with 200 million pages of encyclopedias, novels and the Bible, wins. “I, for one, applaud our new IT leaders,” jokes Jennings.

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Mathew Baynton

"Bacon nerd. Extreme zombie scholar. Hipster-friendly alcohol fanatic. Subtly charming problem solver. Introvert."

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