Author, former software engineer and Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings had a few words about Watson — the machine that beat him on Jeopardy.
GEEK: What fictional computer is Watson most like?
Jennings: We don’t need to worry about it turning sentient any time soon. It’s more like “Joshua” in the movie WarGames… it’s a fast learner, but if it ends up nuking us, it’ll only be because someone accidentally told it to.
How would you improve Watson?
I’d improve Watson’s voice. It totally should have been Darrell Hammond doing Sean Connery from the SNL Celebrity Jeopardy sketches. Or, hey, get Alex Trebek to do the voice. People expect smug, dry superiority to have a Canadian accent.
Are you up for a re-match?
I’d play again any time. Brad Rutter and I both beat Watson in practice rounds. We’d love for Watson to get its comeuppance in an actual televised match. That said, Watson’s reflex advantage on the Jeopardy buzzer means that the human players would need to get lucky with a better spread of categories. Watson isn’t so hot at “high-concept” categories that require a lot of lateral thinking or some creative take on the relevant data. Straight factual retrieval is no problem for it, but ask it to intuit the logic behind, say, a category about hypothetical police reports for fictional literary villains, and it might choke.
Jennings latest book is “Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.”