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Last updated at 16:49 GMT, Friday, 18 February 2011

Supercomputer beats TV quiz champions


18 February 2011

Two champion contestants on a popular American quiz show have been easily beaten by a computer. The IBM machine, named Watson, won in three special editions of Jeopardy. One of the men it defeated holds the Jeopardy record of 74 straight wins.

Tom Burridge

Contestants Ken Jennings (l), Watson and Brad Rutter competing on the TV show Jeopardy

Watson competed against two former Jeopardy champions


Click to hear the report:


Jeopardy is one of America's oldest and most popular quiz shows. But this time, inside the brightly-lit studio, a contest billed as 'man versus machine' - the programme's producers pitted two of their most successful contestants ever against a computer. Known as Watson, the computer is a giant piece of hardware, equivalent in size to several fridges. And over three programmes, Watson beat his human contenders with ease.

In a split-second, Watson is able to digest the question and try and match it against huge amounts of information it has at its disposal. It very quickly assesses how good a match it thinks it has and buzzes either very quickly, or not so quickly, reflecting how confident it is that it has the right answer.

Watson is also able to notice nuances in language, between say 'bat' the animal and 'bat' used in sports. On a prime-time US TV show with millions of viewers it was great publicity for IBM. But the company says Watson the computer is an IT genius and a breakthrough in computing.

Tom Burridge, BBC News


Click to hear the vocabulary:


billed as

publicised or highlighted as

pitted… against

matched with or set up to compete against

human contenders

human opponents or opposition

to digest

to understand and organise

at its disposal

available to use

how good a match

how effective a comparison or answer


makes a noise to indicate it has an answer to a question

nuances in language

slight differences in what certain words or phrases mean

an IT genius

something (or someone) highly skilled with gadgets and technology

a breakthrough

a new discovery or something that is groundbreaking

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