Go Humans! The First of At Least Two “Jeopardy!” Posts

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!)


6 thoughts on “Go Humans! The First of At Least Two “Jeopardy!” Posts

  1. My favorite part was the 1920s answer you mentioned.

    Ken: “What are the 20s?”
    Alex: “No.”
    Watson: (Speak’n’Spell voice) “What is 1920s?”
    Alex: “Nooo….KEN said that.”

    Even when talking to a highly specialized consortium of networked computers represented by an avatar, Alex can’t help being a d-bag.

  2. We enjoyed this part too. Though it concerns us that Alex’s breezy contempt for the occasional robotic glitch might come back to haunt us. Has he not seen “Terminator”? You don’t mock these things, Alex. Unless you particularly enjoy the taste of hot death.

  3. In the Sherck household, we cried foul when Watson’s first selection was the Daily Double. Someone was apparently flirting with the Jeopardy! computer before the game started….

    Watson seemed to be lights out (more or less) on the lower value questions but struggled as they got harder–hence the strategy (once the DD was gone) of going through all the $200 then all the $400 etc., and also the big lead Watson had early.

    We had a bit of a concern that it would be a blow-out one way or the other, but then reasoned that they wouldn’t bother to televise it if it was. While it is fun to see Watson completely biff a question now and then, it wouldn’t be good television if it wasn’t competitive.

  4. We thought Watson picking the Daily Double right out of the gate was mighty suspicious as well.

    We’ll be really suspicious when the Final Jeopardy! category is “Highly Specialized Consortium of Network Computers Represented By An Avatar.” It’d be like Cliff Clavin’s “Jeopardy!” moment all over again.

  5. I’m just glad there were other people watching this besides us. I came downstairs from putting Ava to bed and was a little surprised when I realized what Mark was watching. It is, after all, a little different from our normal diet of Big East basketball on Monday night. Of course we both got sucked in immediately, and cracked up at the “1920’s” gaff…oh silly Watson.

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