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IBM's Watson to appear on Jeopardy, confirms even supercomputers are dumbing down

Supercomputers have come a long way since Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov. IBM's latest, Watson, is entering US TV show Jeopardy -- with $1m up for grabs.

In 1997 Deep Blue defeated world chess champ Garry Kasparov, a humbling landmark in humanity's relationship with our silicon-based children. In 2011, Deep Blue's descendant Watson will test itself against the finest minds humankind can muster -- on US quiz show Jeopardy.

This isn't quite the lowering of computing standards it appears, however. The challenge is designed to examine Watson's ability to interpret the subtleties of language -- without being connected to the Internet.

"Just imagine being able to converse with a computer in an intelligent dialogue to help you understand and leverage all that information out there, so that people can focus on solving their problem and not get overwhelmed by information," said IBM's David Ferrucci in an interview with BBC News. "That is what Watson is about."

Crave is mainly familiar with Jeopardy from watching White Men Can't Jump 77 times. It's the show where the answer is the question: "The film in which Rosie Perez played the Jeopardy-obsessed girlfriend of basketball chump Woody Harrelson..." "What is White Men Can't Jump, Alex?" One of US TV's longest-running game shows, its question format will be a rigorous test of the computer's ability to decipher hints.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J Watson, will be up against Jeopardy legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, who've both won millions of dollars on the show. IBM will donate the $1m prize to charity if it prevails. Watson has been practising hard, playing 55 games against former winners.

IBM says the technology involved could help to diagnose medical patients, parse legal documents or provide tech support over the phone. It's a chilling vision of the future for sure. First they came for the call-centre workers, and I remained silent...

Update 14 January 2011: Watson appeared on a trial run of the show, up against Jennings and Rutter, and the ladies and gentlemen of the press were invited to watch. We don't want to spoil it, but Watson did rather well. Engadget took a camera and made this video: