IBM supercomputer “Watson” to appear on Jeopardy

…just don’t count on him to open the pod bay doors:

Technically speaking, Watson wasn’t in the room. It was one floor up and consisted of a roomful of servers working at speeds thousands of times faster than most ordinary desktops. Over its three-year life, Watson stored the content of tens of millions of documents, which it now accessed to answer questions about almost anything. (Watson is not connected to the Internet; like all “Jeopardy!” competitors, it knows only what is already in its “brain.”) During the sparring matches, Watson received the questions as electronic texts at the same moment they were made visible to the human players; to answer a question, Watson spoke in a machine-synthesized voice through a small black speaker on the game-show set. When it answered the Burj clue — “What is Dubai?” (“Jeopardy!” answers must be phrased as questions) — it sounded like a perkier cousin of the computer in the movie “WarGames” that nearly destroyed the world by trying to start a nuclear war.

This time, though, the computer was doing the right thing. Watson won $1,000 (in pretend money, anyway), pulled ahead and eventually defeated Gilmartin and Kolani soundly, winning $18,400 to their $12,000 each.

“Watson,” Crain shouted, “is our new champion!”

It was just the beginning. Over the rest of the day, Watson went on a tear, winning four of six games. It displayed remarkable facility with cultural trivia (“This action flick starring Roy Scheider in a high-tech police helicopter was also briefly a TV series” — “What is ‘Blue Thunder’?”), science (“The greyhound originated more than 5,000 years ago in this African country, where it was used to hunt gazelles” — “What is Egypt?”) and sophisticated wordplay (“Classic candy bar that’s a female Supreme Court justice” — “What is Baby Ruth Ginsburg?”). (New York Times)

Video here.

Incredible archive of 19th century scientific illustrations from the Challenger expedition

The Challenger expedition was an ambitious scientific mission that sought to catalogue the geology and biology of the world’s oceans. Among other achievements, the expedition managed to scoop up bizarre life forms from the deepest parts of the ocean, including from a spot now known as the Challenger Deep, some 35,000 feet underwater (the expedition brought along over 250 kilometers of Italian hemp rope for just this purpose).

The scientists working aboard the Challenger produced voluminous reports, replete with beautiful illustrations and meticulous charts. Browsing through these documents powerfully evokes the sense of adventure and discovery that made the late 19th century so cool. High quality scans of the entirety of this stunning archive can be viewed here.


“Assuming that all ARG players have large blocks of time to dedicate to your game is a dangerous…”

“Assuming that all ARG players have large blocks of time to dedicate to your game is a dangerous assumption that limits your audience to players dedicated to your game to the exclusion of almost everything else. And making that assumption feeds the stereotype that gamers are people with shallow pockets and lots of time on their hands. Based on anecdotal evidence, that is far from the truth. However, if game designers continue to operate on that assumption by creating games that are largely inaccessible without absolute dedication to a single game, it may become an unfortunate reality.”

A Call to Action for Alternate Reality Game Developers: Play ARGs | ARGNet: Alternate Reality Gaming Network