Computer takes on 'Jeopardy'

An IBM computer called Watson got out to an early lead Thursday against 'Jeopardy!' champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. -- The clue: It's the size of 10 refrigerators, has access to the equivalent of 200 million pages of information and knows how to answer in the form of a question.

The correct response: "What is the computer IBM developed to become a 'Jeopardy!' whiz?"

Watson, which IBM claims as a profound advance in artificial intelligence, edged out game-show champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Thursday in its first public test, a short practice round ahead of a million-dollar tournament that will be televised next month.

Later, the human contestants made jokes about the "Terminator" movies and robots from the future. Indeed, four questions into the round you had to wonder if the rise of the machines was already upon us -- in a trivial sense at least.

Watson, who tore through a category about female archaeologists, repeatedly activating a mechanical button before either Jennings or Rutter could buzz in, pulled in $4,400 in the practice round.

Jennings, who won a record 74 consecutive "Jeopardy!" games in 2004-05, earned $3,400, and Rutter, who won a record of nearly $3.3 million in prize money, had $1,200.

The practice round was played at an IBM research center in Yorktown Heights. A real contest among the three, to be televised Feb. 14-16, will be played there today, The winner of the televised match will be awarded $1 million. Second place gets $300,000, third place $200,000.