Ken Jennings vs. IBM's supercomputer Watson: The Jeopordy champ talks about the competition

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek talks about the IBM Challenger in which International Business Machines Corp. will pit one of its computers against past champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The winner of the three-day competition will receive $1 million with Jennings and Rutter donating half of their winnings to charity. Trebek speaks with Carol Massar and Matt Miller on Bloomberg Television's "Street Smart." (Source: Bloomberg)
Compiled by Justin Bank
Washington Post staff
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 3:22 PM

Last night on the game show Jeopordy an IBM built computer named Watson took on human champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Lisa de Moraes kept score on the evening:

After one night of competition, Watson the computer is pummeling Ken Jennings. Brad Rutter, another past "Jeopardy!" big winner, is neck and neck with the IBM creation. Watson has racked up $5,000 worth of correct answers, as has Rutter, and Jennings is eating their dust with a mere $2,000 in his kitty.

"Jeopardy!" producers have enlisted practically everyone in this bid to tackle Oprah, ratings-wise, during the February sweep; you can't throw a brick without hitting some story about Watson's bid for glory in the blather-sphere. Even PBS is contributing -- its NOVA special on Watson airs tonight on WETA.

Jennings joined the Post to share his thoughts on the competition:

Q. There was an article in the Post the other day about trivia now being trivial because of the ability to look up everything in an instant. What is your take on this? Has Watson changed that? Also, just in general, how do you know so much trivia?

A. KEN JENNINGS : It's true that trivia geeks like me are much less useful a public resource in the days of Google (and not Watson). I worry that, just as we don't remember phone numbers now that we all carry mobile phones, we'll start to think we can stop knowing facts that we carry smartphones. I think this would be trouble for a lot of reasons. Facts aren't nuisances, no matter what certain presidential administrations would have you believe. They're the basis for informed decisions and analytical thinking.

On the other hand, in a not-too-distant future where nobody knows their state capitals anymore, maybe trivia geeks will be revered for their even more fantastical-seeming abilities! We will be like gods to you, carried on litters to your feasts.

Q; Ken, What do you think of this "man vs. machine" version of Jeopardy? I found it interesting that in the middles of last night's Jeopardy, the producers of Jeopardy showed Watson getting questions horribly wrong when they tested it a few times, so they made some fixes and had it play 100 games. It is easy to feed a machine tons of facts, but I find it more interesting when the game tests 3 HUMAN contestants. This seems gimmicky to me, and I'm a fan of the show! Your thoughts ?

A. KEN JENNINGS : It's admittedly a gimmick, but outside the little world of Jeopardy, it has huge ramifications. Not just business-related ones ("Will IBM's stock price go up?"), but cultural and even philosophical ones. Will machines someday think? If so, do they possess consciousness? How does this change life for Earth's other lifeforms, namely us? The ideas surrounding artificial intelligence have always fascinated me, and Watson is an amazing breakthrough in one small corner of the field.

Full chat transcript here.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company