Man vs. Machine

I love trivia. In the Sheppard house, there’s at least 5 different versions of Trivial Pursuit in the game closet. I also love trivia nights at bars/restaurants and doing crossword puzzles. But the show that first made me fall in love with trivia, the show I hope to one day appear on, is Jeopardy.

Alex perfectly toes the line between consoling and condescending when someone misses a question. I miss his mustache.

I’ve been watching it a lot more since I’ve graduated, and I’ve been honing my question-making skills. But, if the robots ever become sentient, it might not matter. If you haven’t heard, tonight the machines rise up against us and throw down the trivia gauntlet.

Watson is an IBM super computer that has been made specifically to wipe the floor with any human Jeopardy contestants. It’s got this crazy database of information, and it’s able to take Jeopardy’s pun-filled answers and come up with the correct question (and we thought processing puns was only something that humans could do). Today through Wednesday, Watson will take on two of Jeopardy’s best competitors: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Jennings is the infamous contestant with the longest run on the show ever (and the cause of the new limit on how long one can play). Rutter is the biggest all-time money winner (and he’s won three Jeopardy Champion tournaments). The big question of this special is…can a computer take on the best trivia minds in the nation?

Of course, no technology, no matter how cool, is perfect, and Watson has had a few glitches in the past. During a test run with Jennings and Rutter, however, it functioned pretty well and beat them both. The engineers have made some tweaks since then, and I’m eager to see what happens. What if it sweeps the entire show? Will it understand what victory feels like? Can it tell that it’s crushed man’s desire to be superior to all earthly things?

I know that Watson has potential to be an extremely useful technology for curing diseases and treating terminal illnesses. But first, we must be entertained.

I wonder what Watson's anecdote will be after the first commercial break? "I started out in the business thinking that I wanted to be a calculator...you know, a decent, dependable job, but nothing to write home to the folks about...but then I heard about Jeopardy, and I decided to dream big!"

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