On 'Jeopardy!,' rise of the machine: Computer competitor rakes in ratings

The computer outsmarted its human competition in Game 1 of the Man vs. Machine competition on 'Jeopardy!' Watson, the IBM supercomputer nemesis, emerged from the Final Jeopardy round with $35,734. (Feb. 16)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 11:22 PM

"I for one welcome our new computer overlords," "Jeopardy!" competitor Ken Jennings wrote resignedly on his screen, as Watson the IBM computer thoroughly stomped on him and fellow super-geek Brad Rutter during Watson's final appearance on the syndicated game show.

Watson racked up a total of $77,147 during competition after wagering $17,973 that "Who is Bram Stoker?" was the correct question to the clue: "William Wilkinson's 'An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia' inspired this author's most famous novel."

Jennings and Rutter got it right, too. But when the dust settled at the end of Wednesday's competition, Jennings (with a total of $24,000) and Rutter (total of $21,600) were so many laps behind Watson's $77,147, it was as if they were running in the next race.

In Wednesday's final match, Watson competed - if you could call this walkover a competition - against Rutter and Jennings in a full game of "Jeopardy!" The winning Watson took home the $1 million grand prize. Actually, IBM donated it to two lucky charities.

Heading into its final night of stealing every scene on "Jeopardy!" Watson had pretty thoroughly whomped the two brainiacs.

After hitting both Daily Doubles on Tuesday's show - the middle of a three-episode competition arc for Watson - the IBM computer was leading with a commanding total of $35,734. Rutter's pot stood at $10,400. And Jennings had to be wishing he'd never agreed to participate in this man-vs.-machine February-sweep stunt, 'cause he was holding an embarrassingly low $4,800.

Jennings holds the show's record for winning the most consecutive games (74), and Rutter is known for earning the most money in "Jeopardy!" history. Watson was not impressed.

That is not to say Tuesday's edition of "Jeopardy!" was lacking in drama. Quite the contrary. When the second night of play got to the "Final Jeopardy!" category - "U.S. Cities" - the situation was thus:

Jennings looked a delicate shade of green on the left, with just $2,400 in his pot. Rutter, looking stricken on the right, had $5,400 to his credit. In the middle: Watson, looking smug, had amassed $36,681.

The "clue," as show host Alex Trebek read: "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero. Its second largest for a World War II battle."

Jennings bet his entire kitty that the correct reply was "What is Chicago?" Rutter wagered $5,000 that the question was "What is Chicago?" Apparently Rutter planned to console himself with $400 if he got it wrong.

Both men were correct! That put them both . . . still hopelessly behind Watson.

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