Computerized Question-Answering System Built by UMD, UC Boulder Bests “Jeopardy!” Champion

Thu Oct 08, 2015

A computerized question-answering system (QANTA) built by a team of students and researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado Boulder recently went head-to-head against “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings—and won.

QANTA won the quiz bowl match 300 to 160 against Jennings (pictured left), who holds the record for the longest winning streak on “Jeopardy!” The exhibition was held Oct. 2 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Four UMD students—Mohit Iyyer, Anupam Guha, He He and Stephanie Hwa—and Hal Daumé, an associate professor of computer science and director of the Computational Linguistics and Information Processing laboratory in the university’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), built QANTA along with Jordan Boyd-Graber, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and a former member of UMIACS and the College of Information Studies (Maryland’s iSchool).

Unlike other question answering systems that are allowed to see the entire question at once (e.g., IBM Watson of “Jeopardy!” fame), QANTA decides when it has enough information to answer a question.

This marked the second time that QANTA’s competed against humans. The first exhibition match, held in Chicago in June, resulted in a tie—200 to 200.

Iyyer, a fourth-year doctoral student in computer science, says the team prepared QANTA for the Oct. 2 match by adding more training data to its system.

“The code for the system itself has not changed much—we added one more feature but other than that it is pretty much the same,” he says. “However, the additional training data has allowed us to expand the set of answers we consider, which has resulted in considerable performance improvements.”

Iyyer says participating in these matches is a good way to get people interested in machine learning.

“These exhibition matches are fun ways to demonstrate the capabilities of the machine learning technology that goes into QANTA, especially if the matches are competitive and/or our system wins,” he says.

Watch the match here.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld