Tonight begins the first of three Jeopardy! episodes where two human contestants battle a blank, passionless machine. It’s sort of like a preview to the upcoming Canadian federal election leader’s debate, except that would be three blanks and a Bloc.
Ken Jennings, who had that 74-game winning streak six seasons ago, and all-time Jeopardy! champ Brad Rutter (US$3.2 million+ in winnings over several tournaments) play against Watson, an IBM supercomputer four years in the making. The winner gets a million bucks, with runners up pocketing $300,000 and $200,000. Jennings and Rutter plan to give half their winnings to charity. The computer is donating everything he wins. How smart is this thing?
PBS had the guy behind the Watson project, IBM semantic analysis boss David Ferrucci, as well as Jeopardy! executive producer Harry Friedman, before critics at the last press tour. (Nova did a special on the whole quiz show experiment last week.) We saw clips of cocky Jennings talking trash and all sort of “no machine can whup me” swagger but I’m thinking Watson is going to smoke these geeks.
I set it up in a feature for the Canadian Press. You can read all of that story here.
Speaking of Jeopardy!, who is 70 years old? That would be host Alex Trebek. The silver-haired Sudbury native has been hosting this quiz show since 1984.

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