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

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  498 Ratings  ·  82 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 doesn’t
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 17th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 11th 2011)
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Dec 19, 2013 Marvin rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This book was a selection for my philosophy book group. After reading it, I can only ask "why?" But as retired computer professor Dr. Geek I welcomed this book. I watched the TV show where Watson - the IBM-built computer - played against the two excellent humans from the Jeopardy TV show. I had hoped that the book would discuss something about the inner workings of what made Watson "tick."

But this was not a book that told that story. It was really the human drama that followed three groups of in
May 27, 2016 Charles rated it really liked it
It’s more than five years since a computer called Watson beat two quiz champs on Jeopardy, the American TV game show. The achievement of that day, witnessed by millions, seems, if anything, more interesting today as developments in artificial intelligence have moved centre-stage.

The spectre of middle-class jobs lost to AI has become part of conventional wisdom. As people spend more and more time exchanging data with distant computer servers, knowing little about what happens between their keyst
Gary Lang
May 03, 2014 Gary Lang rated it really liked it
The book tells the story well. It shows how early we are in terms of creating truly intelligent computing systems, and how far we've come in automating narrow forms of human intelligence which can take nearly infinite computing power. But, we have nearly infinite computing power, so there are task-focused domains that require intelligence we can tackle with computing today.

The dance between the producers of Jeopardy and IBM to make sure that each of them were presented correctly owed a lot to t
Sep 21, 2014 Edward rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-books
This book is about the story behind the famous Jeopardy! match between IBM Watson and two human champions and the preparation of the IBM team leading up to it. The author follows the team behind Watson and provides a detail account of the development and the training of this machine contestant that ultimately beat the two human champion on national TV. You will learn about the state the technology at the time and how team worked hard to improve the machine for the contest. There was the back and ...more
Nov 30, 2011 Phyllis rated it really liked it
Somehow, I missed seeing Watson perform on Jeopardy!. Yeah, I don't know how that happened. But the whole issue of how one sets up a computer to take on the task fascinates me. (Nerd, yes. Geek, no.) Stephen Baker walks the reader through the process without using technical language so complex that no one outside of the field could follow it.

I enjoyed reading the book. It's well written. Mr. Baker walks us through the whole process from off-the-cuff idea, admitting that no one is absolutely sure
Apr 25, 2011 Julie rated it liked it
A few months ago, I watched the first man-machine Jeopardy match, between Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and IBM's brainchild Watson. So when I discovered this book by Stephen Baker at my library, purporting to describe the development of Watson from idea to reality, I figured I'd pick it up and see how Watson came to beat two of the greatest Jeopardy champions ever.

Baker charts Watson from mere suggestion -- back around 2006 -- to the final version that played on the show. The perspective is mostly
Seth Heasley
Jul 13, 2011 Seth Heasley rated it really liked it
I love trivia games, to the point that I've been accused of having a trivial mind. I love having one-on-one Trivial Pursuit matches against my dad, and generally losing. And of course, I love playing along with Jeopardy! at home. If I could avoid getting penalized for all the wrong answers I blurt out and the buzzer wasn't an issue, I could totally take those people. Yeah, right. (I'm a fair hand at Wheel of Fortune, too.)

[ Interestingly, Ken Jennings (of the 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy!)
Dec 12, 2011 Carl rated it liked it
An interesting book, though not quite what I expected. The book is about IBM’s Watson computer, which was constructed to play on the Jeopardy TV program. In early 2011 Watson had a big match on TV with two of the best Jeopardy players, and won. I had thought that the book would be about the AI techniques used for Watson. The book did talk about the technical side of the machine, but only in a general way. Most of the book was about the human interest side of the project: some of the rules of Jeo ...more
Sep 29, 2012 Gregg rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All
Recommended to Gregg by: Eddy VanHalen
It was interesting to read about the inter workings of the team who created one of the most practical AI systems on the planet. The interesting thing about AI is that we have to understand ourselves to use as a model, and it is this awaking that is AI's true benefit. As we evolve it, it evolves us. The real holy grail of AI is to get it to take over its own evolution, and act upon its interpretation of reality. I don't think any AI system will show us anything that we don't already know in laten ...more
Emmeline Joy
Nov 23, 2015 Emmeline Joy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Not a bad book. IBM built a computer that mastered the game of Jeopardy, including accessing trivia and using strategy in order to win. I feel the book missed out a bit, as the author skipped a lot of the technical details. It would have been over my head probably, but still interesting to me to see the technical importance of creating a computer than can play Jeopardy. I think the author knew if he made it too tech-oriented he would lose a large chunk of his audience, so he erred on caution and ...more
Dec 03, 2012 Mysteryfan rated it liked it
I read "Final Jeopardy: Man vs Machine and the Quest to Know Everything" by Stephen Baker. Researchers at IBM spent years and over a billion dollars developing a machine that could compete on Jeopardy!. It was interesting reading how they analyzed the questions so they could teach the machine to recognize puns and irony and even how to use the buzzer. Ultimately the project was pointless. They had to find ways to repurpose the machine after the contest was over. I hope the algorithms were useful ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Julia rated it really liked it
When I heard there was going to be a match between a computer built to play Jeopardy and famous Jeopardy winners, I was instantly intrigued. Outside of checking my DVR was set to auto-record, I starte to wonder the science behind it. Was it just hooked up to a search engine? How was it going to handle the answers that are word play? Is it going to understand English?

This book answers those questions and more! I was highly interested during most of the book. It was not too heavy on technical det
Nov 20, 2012 Lilly rated it liked it
This book was fascinating in illustrating how complex and intricate it can be to create artificial intelligence. All the nuances of the human language, the meanings behind inflections, the things we take for granted are things that computers will never be able to understand. The seemingly simple concept of a machine playing jeopardy became not only an epic under taking, but showed the amazing amount of human ingenuity that goes behind every great "machine".
My problems with this book were small,
Jul 30, 2011 Usha rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Another fascinating read - a journey from the conceptual, through the execution to deliverance. More so was how as Watson evolved, so did the philosophical/moral/ethical questions of accepting a machine in the human dominated world of cognition and knowledge(in the real sense of the word)

Even after watching the man vs. machine showdown live on TV and rewatching it on Youtube, reading the final chapter showed the actual workings of the mind behind the scenes. Kudos to Jennings and Rutter for taki
Sep 23, 2015 Tyler rated it liked it
Decent book which I read for the AI focus. The IBM side of the story is half interesting half sad marketing attempt. Watson will seemingly be out of date in shorter time than it took to build. It's a useless device since the humans have to spoon feed the data to Watson. I wonder how IBM is still in business after reading this. They won this pointless match,mainly due to the buzzer speed. Very odd waste of time.
Apr 20, 2014 Autumn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: oyster, non-fiction
Final Jeopardy is the story of IBM's Watson computer showdown with Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy! I enjoyed this immensely because it was a unique blend of science, entertainment, and business. It touched on a number of subjects that I personally find very interesting: software, AI, branding, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, and trivia games, just to start.

I will admit that when I first heard that a computer had beat humans at Jeopardy, I was thoroughly unimpressed by the news g
May 03, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
spurred to read by Adam Gopnik's april 4 NY article
re Turing humanness tests, best is how well computer interrupts, gets distracted, rely on "uh's" and "ah's".
Reagan's "well" = Capraesque cheer
Obama's "Look" = Spockian certitude

Noah/Moses illusion
Jennings' use of flash cards
194 Watson gives confidence-rated "hypotheses", not "answers".
202 SAS goal: make systs run 1000X or 1MX faster, enabling them to look at 1M more input
208 How search engines think
209 captchas are drawn from old books---by comp
Jul 25, 2011 Martin added it
After being enraptured by the entire Watson-on-Jeopardy affair, it was SO satisfying to read in full all the nitty-gritty details of everything involved. The book capably gives little histories of the players and technologies involved and makes the final showdown quite exciting. Much of the technical detail of Watson's intelligence is left off the table (perhaps too boring for the average reader), and I still contend that Watson wasn't smart enough. It's beyond me that "he" couldn't decipher cat ...more
Feb 18, 2014 Snitty rated it liked it
It's very light on details, and the project head rarely appears in the book without an adjective indicating that he's angry. It was a fast and interesting read, but I'm hard pressed to recommend it to anyone who isn't already interested in both Jeopardy! and computer science.
Madison Vander Dussen
Overall this book is interesting. Not only is this a story telling the birth of Watson but it also considers other areas such as IBM, AI, Jeopardy, game strategy, and human reasoning. It shows how all of these played a part in "who" Watson became. The story is told well, which makes it both engaging and educational.

That being said, Stephan Baker didn't analyse all of these subjects exhaustively. It's a book that covers a lot of interesting information giving just the right amount of detail for
Apr 29, 2014 TJ rated it really liked it
I loved the concept of the book, and I thought it was extremely interesting to watch the process that IBM took to create Watson, but the book became wordy and jumpy at several times throughout the book. I liked the book, therefore I gave it a rating probably that is a little higher than it should get, but I do recommend it to Jeopardy! fans out there.
Aug 22, 2011 Jb rated it it was amazing
This is the story about how 25 computer PhDs employed by Big Blue (IBM) took on the challenge to compete with TV Jeopardy winners. It wasn’t an easy job. They had to design a computer that would listen and speak like a human. Flash-speed was also necessary as well as ability to recognize language subtleties such as slang, puns, and strangely phrased clues. Yet after four years the IBM collective minds met the challenge and their computer (named Watson) bested Jeopardy champions and made only few ...more
Dec 08, 2013 Angie rated it liked it
Enjoyably written story of Watson, the program that defeated the human Jeopardy champions and the IBM team that created him/it. I was disappointed that it was very light on the subjects of how Watson operated and how human and machine intelligences differ or are similar.
I was VERY surprised and unimpressed by the book's documentation. There is no index, and many of the sources are not documented, e.g., on page 162 there is a long quote from Samuel Butler. Baker does not tell which of Butler's wo
May 31, 2016 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: computer, ai
Good high level overview. I was hoping for some more technical info on how the machine worked.
Jul 21, 2012 Danielle rated it really liked it
I read this book for one of my book clubs and found it to be a very interesting story. It covers how the idea for Watson came into being, the challenges that came with designing the computer, and how they were able to pull of the Jeopardy match. I had no idea how hard it was for IBM to even convince Jeopardy to go along with this venture, and all the requirements that were placed on them to make it work. The author managed to bring the appropriate amount of tension to a story that everyone readi ...more
Ko Matsuo
Aug 15, 2014 Ko Matsuo rated it it was amazing
A fascinating glimpse into the state of artificial intelligence through the development of the computer that beat out the two top Jeopardy players on live TV. Great discussion on how far computers have come, but also how wide the gap remains to true intelligence. One side has raw horsepower with the ability to count all the grains of sand on the earth in a single second. The other side has the ability to understand concepts and to make inductive leaps.

May good product managers continue to tap i
Feb 07, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it
I watched the Watson Challenge with interest, and it was neat to get this behind-the-scenes look at the history of the project.
May 14, 2014 Stephen rated it liked it
Makes ken Jennings surprisingly less punch able
Jul 10, 2015 Susan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Jeopardy watchers, people interested in AI,
This was an interesting read about the development of Watson, the computer built by IBM that defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy a few years ago. The author extensively interviewed the people at IBM who developed the project and we are told the story from the beginning through the actual Jeopardy airing. Along the way the author explores the issues and difficulties with advancing artificial intelligence.

A well written informative book. Anyone interested in Jeopardy or computing wil
May 27, 2012 khrome rated it really liked it
Shelves: computers
A pretty complete account of all aspects surrounding this historic match. Mainly a human interest story, it lacked what I was looking for - more detailed descriptions of the algorithms that were used. I would not recommend it if you are looking to read more about the technical aspects of Watson but it's still very interesting.

UPDATE 5/27/2012
This presentation by Dr. David Ferrucci, where he talks about programming Watson, is a nice supplement to this book
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Stephen Baker is an American journalist. In 2008, he wrote The Numerati, a book about the Big Data economy. Until 2009 he worked for covered technology for BusinessWeek. In November, he left to go freelance and finish his second book, Final Jeopardy. His first novel, The Boo
More about Stephen Baker...

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“Watson represents merely a step in the development of smart machines. Its answering prowess, so formidable on a winter afternoon in 2011, will no doubt seem quaint in a surprisingly short time.” 1 likes
“They had human qualities a Jeopardy computer could never approach: fluency in language, an intuitive feel for hints and suggestion, and a mastery of ideas and concepts. Beyond that, they appeared to boast computer-like qualities: vast memories, fast processors, and nerves of steel. No tip-of-the-tongue glitches for Jennings or Rutter. But would a much-ballyhooed match against a machine awaken their human failings? Ferrucci and his team could always hope.” 1 likes
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