Jeopardy! began its three-night stunt with champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter playing against Watson, a computer created by IBM. Thus were brains, flesh, machinery, and luck conjoined. And no, I’m not talking about host Alex Trebek.
The half-hour was eaten up by a lot of IBM info, such as the fact that Watson has a 15 trillion-byte memory capacity, and that the slab nestled between Jennings and Rutter was an avatar of Watson, which is actually a bunch of stacked servers off-stage, being kept cooled by refrigerators.
Cooled only by deodorant and their brains, Jennings and Rutter did a solid job of competing against Watson, who didn’t play like a human Jeopardy! champ. Whereas a human would usually give the correct question in a category and then “run” that category — requesting each answer for increasing amounts of money — Watson jumped all over the board. (The machine did luck out and, on its very first choice, picked a Daily Double… or was it luck?”)
My layman’s suspicion is that the chief advantage the computer may have over its human competitors has less to do with knowledge than with it being mechanically able to press the buzzer faster, in a more precisely timed way, after Trebek finishes speaking. Just a hunch.
So much time was taken up explaining Watson’s workings and plugging IBM that Monday’s game only lasted through the first round. On Tuesday, we’ll see this game’s Double and Final Jeopardy! sessions. I must say, I found Watson quite dull. On the other hand, I thought the freshly sleek Rutter, with his confident air of would-be, future-game-show-host/actor voice, kinda irritating. I’m rooting for Jennings, even though he trails Rutter and Watson, who are tied at $5,000 at this point.
What do you think about machine versus man on Jeopardy! Will you keep watching this week?