Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's Elementary, My Dear Watson

Though I love the game, Jeopardy! hasn't been on my radar for ages.

I TIVOed yesterday's game to catch a glimpse of Brad Rutter (I've had a game show crush on him for years!) compete against Ken Jennings and Watson the IBM computer.

Cons:  Watson had an unfair built-in "buzzing-in" advantage, which is key to winning Jeopardy (provided you have the correct answer.)  I don't feel bad for Ken or Brad, who (though no fault of their own) got creamed by Watson last night, simply because of the buzz-in advantage. It's hardly an even playing field. Watson was born on steroids.

Pros:  A "Man v. Computer" event sets the stage for new medical research and a few new crossword clues for IBM and WATSON.

There's no doubt Ken and Brad knew the "question" to this answer. The category was "Etude, Brute."  (Watson buzzed in first, of course.)

Music fans wax rhapsodic about this Hungarian's "Transcendental Etudes"

Watson: "Who is Franz Liszt?"

Watson's correct answer was no surprise.  With key hints like "rhapsodic," Hungarian" and "Transcendental Etudes" -- it all pointed to Liszt.  But did Watson groan at the "Etude, Brute" pun?  Huh?  Watson can't get puns.  He's only as good as the information provided by his programmers.  (But then, aren't we all?)

Final Jeopardy was the great equalizer. Watson lost his buzz-in mojo.  Finally -- an even playing field among the three contestants.

The category was: "U.S. Cities."  Watson guessed "Toronto." Brad and Ken had the correct answer: Chicago.

The burning post-game question was:  How could Watson, with so much sophisticated programming, answer "Toronto" when the category was "U.S. Cities?"

Kind of makes one grateful for human limitations, like . . . have control over what you put in your own brain.

My Dear Watson, I have a gift for you. Here's what a Liszt Transcendental Etude sounds like, performed by Claudio ARRAU . . . something to consider if you start solving crosswords.  (Watson can't see or hear, but just in case . . . )

All in all, I enjoyed last night's Jeopardy!, if only to get all crush-y about Brad Rutter again.  The competition isn't over yet. It's half time -- the game continues tonight.  Go, Brad!


austinarborworks said...

did Watson groan? doubtful. But the programmers claim he can "get" puns and other wordplay. In fact, that is somewhat crucial to competing effectively on Jeopardy!, and Watson's success suggests they are right.

Joanne said...

I saw this episode as well, actually, at the gym. I was so happy to see etudes as one of the categories since that's one thing I actually know something about.

But reallly? Toronto? Hmm.

La Liz said...

austinarborworks: I apologize to Watson if he got the "Etude, Brute" pun. The fun about bad puns (aren't they all bad?) is the groaning and throwing-of-projectiles that comes with the territory. Watson is very reserved.

Joanne: Loved the "etudes" category! I was surprised by how many answers I knew, but there's no way to compete with Watson's buzz-in advantage. That's the flaw of the this "challenge." I see it as more of an exhibition tennis match with PR value and more practical applications in medical and research. Good stuff.

KarmaSartre said...

It went by very quickly, but I think I caught that Watson's third best guess at the second largest city in New Zealand was "United States of America". Plus, Watson lost major style points for its (his?) pronunciation of "Etude, Brute".

And then there was the requisite boring contestant interview --

Alex: "Watson, I understand something funny happened to you on your honeymoon in Italy?"

Watson: "Open the pod bay doors, Alex."

La Liz said...

Hah! Yeah, how about that contestant interview?

I loved some of Watson's wrong answers, like:

Category: "Also On Your Computer Keys"

"A loose-fitting dress hanging straight from the shoulders to below the waist."

Watson said, "What is chemise?"

Maybe it's not SO off base -- I don't think Brad or Ken got it right either.

Perhaps a woman familiar with fashion and sewing would know it's a SHIFT dress.