Watson: Cambridge Challenge accepted

Harvard, MIT students to take on supercomputer in trivia contest

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: This article misspells the name of keynote speaker David Ferrucci. Ferrucci has two “r”s, not one.

Watson, IBM’s champion Jeopardy! computer, is making its way to Cambridge to compete in a trivia match with students from the MIT Sloan School of Management and Harvard Business School. The competition, dubbed the “IBM Watson Challenge,” will be held at the Harvard Business School’s Burden Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 31. The challenge will be preceded by “The Race Against the Machine: The Future of Tech” Symposium at the MIT Media Lab, which will include a number of talks about Watson’s creation and the future of the technology. Following the symposium, buses will depart from the Media Lab at 2:15 p.m. for those interested in attending the trivia competition at Harvard.

The “IBM Watson Challenge” is the result of the efforts of Professor Erik Brynjolfsson GM ’91 of MIT Sloan and Willy C. Shih of the Harvard Business School. Brynjolfsson said the tournament stemmed from a mutual desire to highlight “some of the ways that technology is changing business.” Brynjolfsson said that the new technology could revolutionize day-to-day business.

“[The technology] could be used to answer call center questions, to do the work of lawyers, to help in the medical field,” Brynjolfsson said. The symposium will focus on exploring such applications and examining their implications in the future.

The symposium will also include a keynote speech by David Ferucci, the “father of Watson,” who will speak about the development of Watson. The other panels will cover the potential of the technology and the effects it might have on business and the economy.

In the trivia competition, teams of three students each from MIT Sloan and HBS will compete against each other and Watson. The MIT representatives were chosen through a series of playoff tournaments that were open only to Sloan students. At Harvard, two students who are Jeopardy! alumni were responsible for organizing the team.

Watson, a supercomputer that occupies an entire room, will be present in a smaller — though equally competitive — version of itself at the competition this Monday.

Brynjolfsson encouraged MIT students to attend the competition to provide support for their peers.

“We would love a good showing of MIT students to cheer them on,” Brynjolfsson said, “There’s room for 200 MIT students, and we wouldn’t want to be outnumbered [by Harvard].”

Watson was unveiled last February in a three-part televised competition between Watson, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter — the two most successful Jeopardy! contestants in history. Watson dominated the overall competition, finishing with $53,147 more than second-place finisher Jennings. Still, in the third and final segment of the competition, Jennings trailed Watson only slightly, suggesting that the computer may not be entirely unbeatable.

But, Brynjolfsson emphasized, Watson “goes beyond the game.”

“The implications for the economy and for MIT students’ careers — and everyone’s careers — is really profound.” Brynjolfsson said, “This technology is changing the world.”

The MIT Center for Digital Business is sponsoring the event. More information about the events and the symposium agenda can be found at

larkforsure about 12 years ago

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Eric Andersen about 12 years ago

It appears Dr. Ferrucci's name is misspelled:

Anonymous about 12 years ago

I liked this article. May be you can give a few examples of specific Business applications.