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Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything [Hardcover]

Stephen Baker
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 17 2011 0547483163 978-0547483160

 


The thrilling story of the computer that can play Jeopardy! Alex Trebek: Meet Watson.

For centuries, people have dreamed of creating a machine that thinks like a human. Scientists have made progress: computers can now beat chess grandmasters and help prevent terrorist attacks. Yet we still await a machine that exhibits the rich complexity of human thought — one that doesn’t just crunch numbers, or take us to a relevant Web page, but understands us and gives us what we need.

That vision has driven a team of engineers at IBM. Over three years, they created “Watson” and prepared it for a showdown on Jeopardy!, where it would take on two of the game’s all-time champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, in a nationally televised event. Final Jeopardy is the entertaining, illuminating story of that computer and that epic match.

It’s a classic tale of Man vs. Machine. Like its human competitors, Watson has to understand language, including puns and irony, and master everything from history, literature, and science to arts, entertainment, and game strategy. After years of training, Watson can find the scrambled state capital in “Hair Gel” (“What is Raleigh?”) and even come up with the facial accessory that made Moshe Dayan recognizable worldwide (“What is an eye patch?”). Watson may just be the smartest machine on earth.

Final Jeopardy traces the arc of Watson’s “life,” from its birth in the IBM labs to its big night on the podium. We meet Hollywood moguls and Jeopardy! masters, genius computer programmers and ambitious scientists, including Watson’s eccentric creator, David Ferrucci. We gain access to Ferrucci’s War Room, where the IBM team works tirelessly to boost Watson’s speed to the buzzer, improve its performance in “train wreck” categories (such as “Books in Español”), and fix glitches like the speech defect Watson developed during its testing phase, when it started adding a d to words ending in n (“What is Pakistand?”).

Much is at stake, especially for IBM. A new generation of Watsons could transform medicine, the law, marketing, even science itself, as machines process huge amounts of data at lightning speed, answer our questions, and possibly come up with new hypotheses.

Showdown aside, it’s clear that the future has arrived. But with it come questions: Where does it leave humans? What will Watson’s heirs be capable of in ten or twenty years? Is it time to declare defeat in the realm of facts? What should we teach our children? And what should we carry around in our own heads?

Final Jeopardy takes on these questions and more in a narrative that’s as fast and fun as the game itself. Baker shows us how smart machines will fit into our world — and how they’ll disrupt it.

 www.finaljeopardy.net


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Review

"The book is the place to go if you're really interested in this version of the quest for creating Artificial Intelligence (AI)....lively" -Seattle Times

"Baker skillfully weaves the two threads of the story together, and the book contains many passages that make the reader not only assess what they think but how they think, and how they have absorbed and stored the knowledge they possess. It’s books like this that remind us there is still so much we don’t understand about our own brains, and that the journey of discovery has only just begun." -Culture Mob

"Baker's narrative is both charming and terrifying...an entertaining romp through the field of artificial intelligence - and a sobering glimpse of things to come." -STARRED, Publishers Weekly

About the Author

STEPHEN BAKER was BusinessWeek's senior technology writer for a decade, based first in Paris and later New York. He has also written for the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal. Roger Lowenstein called his first book, The Numerati, "an eye-opening and chilling book." Baker blogs at finaljeopardy.net.


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4.0 out of 5 stars Meet Watson and the Team Sept. 19 2011
Format:Hardcover
Meet Watson, a dedicated question/answer machine developed over several years through the concerted effort of a diligent team of researchers, scientists, mathematicians, and a host of other professionals.

Stephen Baker does an excellent job in Final Jeopardy tracing the history of Watson from his conception to the climactic match where he faces off with two of the greatest Jeopardy champions of all time.

The book is a story about Watson and the team that developed him. It does not go in-depth into the programming and algorithms at work in Watson's 'brain', but it certainly covers all of the ups and downs of his development in enough detail to satisfy the curiosity of most Jeopardy fans. It is highly readable, engaging, and occasionally funny; I would heartily recommend Final Jeopardy to anyone who loves the game and is fascinated by the engineering feat that has become known as Watson.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare to have this much fun reading a book AND to learn so much! Feb. 9 2011
By Len Edgerly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Stephen Baker's account of the creation and teaching of IBM's Watson computer, preparing it for the climactic Jeopardy contest with the two top living human Jeopardy champions, is a delight to read AND a highly informative overview of artificial intelligence and the role computers will play in our lives from here on out. You get to know and appreciate the complex, talented characters of the story at IBM and in Hollywood. The growing sense of drama makes the book un-put-downable. Will IBM's engineers prepare Watson to figure out the pun-filled, playful and quirky categories of Jeopardy? Will the Hollywood execs agree to fair terms of engagement? And, most intriguingly, who will win the final showdown?

I love what Baker's publisher has done with the Kindle version of this book - making the first 11 chapters available well before the showdown Jeopardy match airs on Feb. 14-15-16. After the actual match took place, in great secrecy, Baker wrote the final chapter of his book, which will arrive as a Kindle download the day after the final match, when the hardcover will also be available, with all the chapters. This is a fantastic use of e-book technology, so bravo to Houghton Mifflin for such a clever and Kindle-friendly innovation.

[...]
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book!!! Feb. 12 2011
By Tim - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Heard the author's interview with Len Edgerly on the Kindle Chronicles on February 5, 2011 (TKC 133). Had to purchase and read the book after listening. I finished the book last night and am looking forward now to the match this next week. I learned a lot about what IBM had to do to get ready for the match and the problems that needed to be overcome. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know about AI and especially about the people who are working on this project. I am thankful to the publisher for putting the book out in e-book form prior to the match. I really look forward to reading the last chapter this next week!!!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As others said, a little too much story July 23 2011
By 12milluz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I got this book because I am intrigued with Jeopardy (my best friend was a participant in the show before) and I love computers. When I first heard about Watson, I was very interested in what they were doing. I thought this book would be the perfect source to learn more.

It is written fantastically and is fun to read, but it does not go into the technology too much, which is what I was looking for. Still, I enjoyed reading and learning. I had no idea how many problems there were with both the technology and the business aspect of the program. The book goes into the areas of logic and AI as well, and gives some history of IBM and its chess-playing computer of the past.

Anyone who's looking for a nice, easy read should take a look at this book. Techies: It probably won't fill your needs in terms of describing the technology, but it's still fun to read. There isn't any other source as complete as this on Watson. Take a look!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Uplifting Tale By a Gifted Writer Feb. 19 2011
By Don Tennant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Final Jeopardy that was released prior to the match, without the final chapter about the outcome. When the match aired, I felt like I was seeing a bunch of old friends who had managed to get themselves on TV. Watson was only one of my new best buds. I also got a kick out of seeing the cast of characters at IBM whom I had come to know through Steve Baker's book. I found myself unapologetically rooting for them, and being exhilarated by their victory, having gotten a behind-the-scenes sense of just how much of themselves the IBMers had given to make the miracle of Watson happen.

I attribute all of that to Baker's remarkable story-telling and character-developing abilities, which enabled him to craft an engaging narrative about a labyrinthine project and esoteric subject matter that might easily have confounded the non-engineers among us. The most richly developed character was Watson him/her/itself, not through any cutesy, artificial anthropomorphism, but though a mosaic of triumphs and setbacks that seemed to transcend the IBM team that created it.

Baker managed to put it all in a context that enables us to grasp the potential of Watson and the computer systems that will follow it, so that we can appreciate that what might on the surface have appeared to be little more than self-indulgent technological gimmickry was actually a quest to improve people's lives in ways that could only be vaguely imagined in the very recent past. Watson, in the end, is a proof of concept that will ultimately benefit us all. Its creation is an uplifting tale, and one that warranted a gifted writer to tell it. It's fortunate that Baker rose to that occasion.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much story, not enough (on) software April 7 2011
By BizTech Readings - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book does not contain any details on the software -- except for the statistical AI approach discussion. If you're looking for high level technical details of the Watson software, look at the article in AI magazine by the Watson team. [This tip was hidden deep inside the appendix of this book :)... I should have googled!].

In this book, you mostly get the story of the event and background of the people involved with Watson. It was a quick read... may be because I read the book after watching the documentary and the Jeopardy! contest. I would have liked to more details of Watson itself... Even the book on Manhattan project contained more details. There could have been bit more discussion on implications of this technology.. there's only cursory discussion on this.

Too much story, not enough (on) software
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