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Local ties for famous Jeopardy computer

Before Watson — the supercomputer playing “Jeopardy!” this week — captured the nation’s imagination, he mesmerized a group of researchers, including a half-dozen with Massachusetts ties.

Before Watson — the supercomputer playing “Jeopardy!” this week — captured the nation’s imagination, he mesmerized a group of researchers, including a half-dozen with Massachusetts ties.

“If it hadn’t been interesting to people it would still be fun for me,” said UMass Amherst professor James Allen. “But this is exciting my parents. My 6- and 8-year-old kids are excited.”

Researchers from IBM, MIT and UMass spent four years programming the computer — the size of 10 refrigerators — with 200 million pages of trivia knowledge.

The three-day match ends tomorrow, with the winner collecting $1 million and the runners-up winning $300,000 and $200,000. Watson’s share will go entirely to charity; the humans will donate half their winnings.

Watson could also pave the way for more practical applications that answer specific questions without requiring people to search tons of search engine results.

“Presumably you’d dive down to make sure you understand the answer,” Allen said. “But getting the answer right off is good.”

 
 
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