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'Jeopardy Challenge': Rise of the machines


Jeopardy Credit: Handout

“I’ll take ‘The Computers Are Taking Over the World’ for $1,000, Alex.”

“The biggest challenge that Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter have ever faced on ‘Jeopardy.’”

“What is Watson?”

Top “Jeopardy” challengers Jennings and Rutter have already conquered the world’s longest-running answer-and-question game show, mowing down contestant after contestant.

Tonight they’ll take on a new opponent with a monster hard drive and precision buzzing-in skills: the IBM supercomputer Watson.

amNewYork spoke with Jennings — who, among his numerous “Jeopardy” records, sports an unbelievable 74-game winning streak — about the challenge.

How are you preparing for the match?
You just have to imagine one of those Rocky Balboa training montages, except with flashcards instead of sides of beef, and that’s pretty much it.

Do you feel more pressure in this game?
This is the first time I’m playing “Jeopardy” for something bigger than just paying my mortgage, my kids’ college fund or my own personal pride. I feel like I had been chosen to be a champion of the species.

What’s your strategy for this game?
[Watson] is very fast on the buzzer — faster and more consistent than any human. I started to see that to beat Watson, you had to play aggressively ... the human race is going to be the underdog.

Did you do any buzzer practice?
There’s no Zen master of buzzing that comes to your house and shares the secrets of the universe. I think for me … you watch the show, trying to match your timing to whoever seems to be doing well that day — try to get into that rhythm.

What does Watson represent for future technology?
I think this is the beginning of a lot of Watson-esque changes in our daily life. If you ask a question about your taxes, your health or why isn’t my printer working, there might be something like Watson on the other end answering that question the same way it answered questions about Shakespeare plays on “Jeopardy.”

Is there an interview with Watson during the show?
There wasn’t an interview. Even by the low thresholds of “Jeopardy” contestants, Watson is not a dynamic personality.

Would Watson do well on other game shows?
I wonder if IBM would think that was beneath them if they had Watson pricing floor wax every morning on [“The Price is Right”]. I think that would be awesome. … I’m not a scientist, but I’d say computers are very close to playing “Wheel of Fortune” at human level.

On TV: “Jeopardy: The Watson Challenge” airs Monday through Wednesday on ABC/7 at 7 p.m.

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