Man vs. Machine

IBM's Jeopardy playing computer Watson will challenge the game show's grand masters Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter one game apiece.

I don't use any IBM products; the only one I still see in my day-to-day life is the Thinkpad which is popular among Windows users at the office. But the strongest cultural resonance of their brand is in the software they build to challenge humans at various games. For Watson to be able to mount a challenge to top Jeopardy players so quickly (development only began a few years ago) is really impressive.

Over the next four years, Mr. Ferrucci set about creating a world in which people and their machines often appeared to switch roles. He didn't know, he later said, whether humans would ever be able to "create a sentient being." But when he looked at fellow humans through the eyes of a computer scientist, he saw patterns of behaviors that often appeared to be pre-programmed: the zombie-like commutes, the near-identical routines, from tooth-brushing to feeding the animals, the retreat to the same chair, the hand reaching for the TV remote. "It's more interesting," he said, "when humans delve inside themselves and say, 'Why am I doing this? And why is it relevant and important to be human?' "

The Jeopardy games will air Feb 14-16.