We spent our Valentine’s Day with a heart-shaped takeout pizza from Mio’s (verdict: while not the best bang for your buck, it’s good pizza; the free rose was a nice touch too) and “Jeopardy!” This happens to be the week when two of “Jeopardy!”s most successful contestants — Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter — square off against a rookie: Watson, an IBM computer and distant relative of Deep Blue. As Alex Trebek explained during a too-lengthy introduction (“Just start the game!” Ben kept yelling at the TV), Watson himself (or itself) was not actually in the studio. Roughly the size of ten refrigerators, Watson had to be housed next door at an IBM research lab; he was represented in the studio by an avatar. There were some other special accommodations made for him (it): Watson was sent a text file of each question at the same time that Alex read it. Unlike Ken or Brad, Watson could not preemptively ring in and hope to pull the answer out of thin air (the way Ken did, or did not, several times); it could only buzz once it had a definitive response. Refreshingly (unless you’re looking forward to the day when man gets trampled by machine), Watson was not always correct. In the “Name the Decade” category, Ken answered incorrectly that Oreo cookies were introduced in the 20s. Watson then rang in and gave the same answer. (Cue Nelson Muntz.) Another answer — “Stylish elegance, or students who all graduated in the same year” — led Watson to respond, “What is chic?” (Brad correctly answered, “What is class?”)
At the end of the round, Brad and Watson were tied at $5000 while Ken was a distant third at $2000. Watson also came off as a bit of a prig during the informal post-game chat with Alex. But at least he didn’t tell some forced post-first-commerical-break anecdote about how he travelled to a foreign country once and really embarrassed himself by saying a word that he thought meant one thing but actually meant another nonsensical or slightly offensive thing, as those wacky “Jeopardy!” contestants are wont to do.
Tomorrow: Round Two! (Down with the machines!)