Ken Jennings: Why I Lost to a Computer Named Watson

IBM Watson Wins Jeopardy - Ken Jennings Explains Loss
Ken Jennings, left, and Watson on Jeopardy!
Ben Hider/Getty

updated 02/17/2011 at 04:00 PM EST

originally published 02/17/2011 05:00PM

What is ... defeat?

In the much-anticipated match-up of man vs. machine on Jeopardy!, man got trounced – and he wasn't happy about it.

"I felt honored, even heroic," Ken Jennings wrote on Slate.com of competing on the game show against IBM's supercomputer, Watson, this week. "I envisioned myself as the Great Carbon-Based Hope against a new generation of thinking machines – which, if Hollywood is to believed, will inevitably run amok, build unstoppable robot shells, and destroy us all."

"But," he continues, "I wasn't the hero at all. I was the villain."



Watson, which was in development for years and was represented at the game by an avatar, has the processing power of 2,800 powerful computers, according to reports. During the match, Watson was quick to buzz when it had the answer and was generally right when he did, recognizing clues relating to many topics including geography, pop culture and the law. Watson earned $1 million for winning, which IBM says will go to charity.

Jennings, who holds the Jeopardy! record for winning the most consecutive games (74), also competed against champ Brad Rutter.

While Jennings did give props to his worthy competitor, acknowledging in New York Daily News, that "Watson is indisputably a huge leap forward in computer 'thinking,' " he also pointed out that the game show's buzzer is an important part of winning – one that gave Watson the advantage.

"Is it really head and shoulders above the best human Jeopardy! players, the way it looked on TV? Not by a long shot," Jennings wrote. "The reflexes of even a very good human player will vary slightly, but not Watson's. If it knows the answer, it makes the perfect buzz. Every single time. And it's hard to win if you can't buzz."

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