An IBM computer won the practice round on popular quiz show Jeopardy! against two top contestants, showing artificial intelligence has come a long way in simulating how humans think.
"We have created a computer system which has the ability to understand natural human language, which is a very difficult thing for a computer to do," said John Kelly, the director of IBM Research.
"In the field of artificial intelligence, people spend their lifetimes trying to advance that science inches. What Watson does and has demonstrated is the ability to advance the field of artificial intelligence by miles."
The machine, named Watson after legendary International Business Machines president Thomas Watson, is a showcase of the company's computing expertise and research in advanced science.
It also shows IBM -- which turns 100 years old this year -- wants to stay at the forefront of technology, even as companies such as Google Inc and Apple Inc have become the industry's popular leaders.
IBM says the ability to understand language makes Watson far more evolved than Deep Blue, the company's supercomputer which won against world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.
The biggest challenge for IBM scientists was teaching Watson to differentiate between literal and metaphorical expressions and understanding puns and slang.
Feeding it knowledge was easier. Watson is not plugged into the Internet, but has a database covering a broad range of topics, including history and entertainment.
At Thursday's practice, held at IBM's Eero Saarinen-designed research facility in the quiet New York suburb of Yorktown Heights, Watson showed off its familiarity with musical film.
"The film Gigi gave him his signature song, 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls'," asked host Alex Trebek.
"Who is Maurice Chevalier," replied Watson.
The machine, which combines IBM's refrigerator-sized Power7 laptop computers, was too big to fit on the set and was connected on the ground floor.
It also accurately answered questions on Agatha Christie and the city of Jericho.
Watson triumphed in the first practice round, earning $4,400, while Ken Jennings, who won 74 games in a row during the show's 2004-2005 season, trailed with $3,400. Brad Rutter, who has earned a cumulative $3.3 million on the show, came in last.laptop computers laptop