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IBM Watson. What Lost to a Nuclear Physicist?

Watson vs. Congress IBM makes specialized computers to demonstrate advances in computer science – and doubtless to make a few sales, too. When it created its chess playing behemoth, Deep Blue (blue is IBM’s corporate color), it kept it functional long enough to beat grand master Gary Kasparov, but didn’t do any rematches after that. IBM had proved its point – why muddy the achievement?

So I figured when its game playing computer Watson won a Jeopardy tournament against Kasparov equivalents in the Jeopardy sphere, that was it. Time to move on.

But IBM has kept Watson going – and the computer promptly got smoked by a puny human – well, not so puny, really, definitely human.

Defending humans against future Terminators, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) defeated IBM's Watson in a special congressional edition of "Jeopardy!"

The victory by Holt, a nuclear physicist, came Monday night after the super-computer had trounced other champions of the information game show, including Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the all-time games and money winners on the TV version.

And wouldn’t you know it’d be a nuclear scientist who did the smoking. Now, Rep. Holt has appeared on Jeopardy before, in 1980, and played to the then-limit of five days – you can stay until you lose now – so he was already established as good at the game.

Still, the cynic in me imagined that having a Congressional tournament against Watson was, to some degree, done to allow viewers to laugh when politicians gave dumb answers (or questions, in Jeopardy-speak) and to suggest, in jest, that maybe a computer should run Congress.

Didn’t work that way – the audience heckled the computer and chanted “Go, humans.” (The other contestants were Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) – Cassidy was the other human in Holt’s match.)

Who’s laughing now?

Holt tweeted the news: "I played a full round against @IBMWatson tonight and was proud to hold my own: the final tally was Holt $8,600, Watson $6,200.”

The world is rejoicing — Nancy Pelosi tweets: "Congratulations to @RushHolt for showing @IBMWatson human intelligence isn’t in #jeopardy!."

You can read more of Holt’s – and Watson’s – tweets here.

And here is IBM’s portal for Watson.

Congress vs. Watson. That’s Rush Holt at the near end – smiling broadly – as you would too – given the circumstances.


Ray said…
This is like beating the king at chess or cards. The successful courtier doesn't do that to the person who dispenses the funds.

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