Synopses & Reviews
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 doesnt 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 games 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.
Its 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 Watsons “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 Watsons eccentric creator, David Ferrucci. We gain access to Ferruccis War Room, where the IBM team works tirelessly to boost Watsons 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, its clear that the future has arrived. But with it come questions: Where does it leave humans? What will Watsons 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 thats as fast and fun as the game itself. Baker shows us how smart machines will fit into our world — and how theyll disrupt it.
"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. Its books like this that remind us there is still so much we dont 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
"A highly readable and fascinating account of the number-driven world we now live in." The Wall Street Journal
"[A] bracing behind-the-screen investigation into the booming world of data mining and analysis . . . fascinating." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
"Highly recommended for general readers with an appreciation for contemporary cultural phenomenons." Library Journal
"An eye-opening read for even the techiest among us." Bookpage
"Deserve[s] a spot on your shelf." Steve Rubel, AdAge
"A well-considered take on a hard-to-grasp subject." Kirkus Reviews
"Stephen Baker could have easily gone for spooky in this depiction of the Numerati . . . but Baker's deep reportage goes beyond smart shopping carts that entice us to run up our grocery bills and political messages crafted on our preference for Chianti . . . The Numerati, Baker writes, try to model 'something almost hopelessly complex: human life and behavior.' They're making progress."
"'The Numerati' is a book about math that wont cause liberal-arts majors to heave it across the room. The slender volume contains not a single esoteric Greek letter or mystifying equation. Whats more, writer Stephen Baker artfully conjures up vivid images to explain what hes talking about and why a reader should care." Christian Science Monitor
"Utterly fascinating . . . Baker, a veteran journalist at BusinessWeek, manages to explain this cutting edge phenomenon and its sometimes-frightening impacts in accessible prose . . . Baker also does not shy from potential problems with all this data mining and analysis . . . Baker's accessible prose and analysis illuminate this startling new world and its potential problems." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"'The Numerati' is a kind of travelogue, a report from the shadowy regions where data mining, the search for new algorithms and the divination for the hidden meanings disclosed by our choices animates a type of research that was impossible to imagine before the computer . . . an interesting book . . . Baker knows well that the Numerati cannot answer the big questions, like where do we go from here? But perhaps they can help us avoid falling off whatever cliffs we decide to peer over." The Oregonian
"Crisp, well-reported ... Baker writes with smooth and accessible assurance." - San Francisco Chronicle
"An eye-opening and chilling book." - Portfolio
"Baker singles out the danger to privacy the Numerati and their techniques represent, but he doesn't take sides. He also points out the advantage of Amazon knowing what books you want, or an insurance company offering discounts to drivers who install electronic monitoring equipment in their cars . . . still, he paints a pretty scary picture." - Chicago Sun-Times
"Deserve[s] a spot on your shelf . . . Baker details how companies are hiring math geeks to dissect and make sense of mountains of data to spot everything from consumer patterns to future terrorists." -- Steve Rubel, AdAge
"'The Numerati' is fascinating and a bit frightening -- a well-written consideration of why you might want to drive a different way to work every now and then, or buy ginger ale rather than Coke, just to throw 'them' off a little." -- Utah Daily Herald
The thrilling history and behind-the-scenes story of Watson, the computer created by IBM scientists to take on two masters of Jeopardy!, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, in a fast-paced look at how smart machines will change our world.
I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.” So responded Ken Jennings in the final round of one of the most exciting Jeopardy matches in history, in which two of the games greatest all-time winners were dominated by a machine called Watson. It was clear to all who were watching that the future had arrived.
Stephen Bakers Final Jeopardy traces the arc of Watsons “life,” from its birth in the IBM labs to its big night on the podium. We watch as Watson comes to understand language and master everything from history, literature, and science to arts, entertainment, and game strategy. We see how 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. As fast and fun as the game itself, Final Jeopardy shows how smart machines will fit into our world—and how theyll disrupt it.
“The place to go if youre really interested in this version of the quest for creating Artificial Intelligence (AI).”—Seattle Times
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 doesnt just crunch numbers, or take us to a relevant Web page, but understands us and gives us what we need. With the creation of Watson, IBMs Jeopardy! playing computer, we are one step closer to that goal.
But how did we get here? In Final Jeopardy, Stephen Baker traces the arc of Watsons “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 Watsons eccentric creator, David Ferrucci. We see how 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. As fast and fun as the game itself, Final Jeopardy shows how smart machines will fit into our world—and how theyll disrupt it.
“Like Tracy Kidders Soul of a New Machine, Bakers book finds us at the dawn of a singularity. Its an excellent case study, and does good double duty as a Philip K. Dick scenario, too.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Bakers narrative is both charming and terrifying . . . an entertaining romp through the field of artificial intelligence—and a sobering glimpse of things to come.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Steve Baker puts his finger on perhaps the most important cultural trend today: the explosion of data about every aspect of our world and the rise of applied math gurus who know how to use it." --Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine (Wired Magazine )
An urgent look at how a global math elite is predicting and altering our behavior -- at work, at the mall, and in bed
Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, flip channels, drive through automatic toll booths, shop with credit cards, and make cell phone calls. Now, in one of the greatest undertakings of the twenty-first century, a savvy group of mathematicians and computer scientists is beginning to sift through this data to dissect us and map out our next steps. Their goal? To manipulate our behavior -- what we buy, how we vote -- without our even realizing it.
In this tour de force of original reporting and analysis, journalist Stephen Baker provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're all entering -- and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati have infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, patients, voters, potential terrorists -- and lovers. The implications are vast. Our privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor and measure our every move (then reward or punish us). Politicians can find the swing voters among us, by plunking us all into new political groupings with names like "Hearth Keepers" and "Crossing Guards." It can sound scary. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or even helping us find our soul mate. Surprising, enlightening, and deeply relevant, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor -- the mathematical modeling of humanity -- will transform every aspect of our lives.
STEPHEN BAKER has written for BusinessWeek for over twenty years, covering Mexico and Latin America, the Rust Belt, European technology, and a host of other topics, including blogs, math, and nanotechnology. But he's always considered himself a foreign correspondent. This, he says, was especially useful as he met the Numerati. "While I came from the world of words, they inhabited the symbolic realms of math and computer science. This was foreign to me. My reporting became an anthropological mission." Baker has written for many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He won an Overseas Press Club Award for his portrait of the rising Mexican auto industry. He is the coauthor of blogspotting.net, featured by the New York Times as one of fifty blogs to watch.
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.
Table of Contents
1. The Germ of the Jeopardy Machine 19
2. And Representing the Humans 42
3. Blue J Is Born 62
4. Educating Blue J 81
5. Watsons Face 104
6. Watson Takes On Humans 124
7. AI 148
8. A Season of Jitters 170
9. Watson Looks for Work 189
10. How to Play the Game 210
11. The Match 232
Sources and Further Reading 267
About the Author 269