Watson (left) with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek

What is through the roof? The answer would be ratings for Jeopardy!
The three day match up of man vs. machine, which concludes Wednesday, has sent the numbers for the 27-year-old quiz show into orbit. Monday’s supper hour offering drew 1,862,000 viewers to CBC, among the public network’s biggest non-hockey draws of the year. The episode outperformed CBC’s combined total for their entire 8-11 p.m. lineup (not that challenging considering the anemic scores for Little Mosque, 18 to Life and Village on a Diet). Even the 25-54-year-old Jeopardy! take took a giant leap forward over the half million mark. Watson, that big black slab of smartypants, has plenty of admirers.
Not everybody is a fan, however. TVFMF reader and old high school chum Gerard Mayne send an email dismissing the Man vs. Machine stunt as “one big IBM infomercial.” Mayne feels Watson’s hot-wired buzzer beater ability amounts to cheating, especially evident in Tuesday night’s Double Jeopardy round when Watson roared past humbled brainiacs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter 24-6. “Have a look at the normally inexpressive faces of Ken and Brad,” writes Mayne, “eyes rolling in utter disgust.” This is no contest of skill, it’s “a week long IBM ad,” says Mayne.
The one part he did like was when Watson was asked in Final Jeopardy to name the U.S. city with airports named for a war hero and a battle. Watson answered, “What is Toronto???” Wrong, circuit breath–the answer is Chicago (airports: O’Hare and Midway). Watson only wagered $900 and change out of his $30K+ winnings. More proof it’s a cheat-bot, says Mayne.
The machine stands to win a million smackers Wednesday, with IBM giving it all to charity. You don’t need a computer to figure this one out. $1M for 3 x 30 minute infomercials with a vast, national target audience of serial computer buyers = cheap.
To Mayne’s point, though, isn’t the only logical follow up to this fake tourney to hold another round pitting IBM vs. Apple? They could have those two guys from the commercials stand at the podiums. Or maybe just let those actors answer the questions.
Another suggestion I happened upon via Twitter: have William Shatner (coming north to host the 31st Annual Genie Awards in Ottawa March 10) face off against Watson and challenge him with a circular, humanly illogical question. Ka-BOOM!

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