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March 2, 2011

Watson Goes to Washington

Tiffany Trader

Score one for humanity. On Monday night, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) beat IBM’s AI darling Watson at a round of “Jeopardy,” earning a total of $8,600 to Watson’s $6,200. Holt later remarked that Watson must have been having a low-voltage night.Watson+in+Washington
After winning handily against veteran Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter last month, IBM’s prized creation set its sights on Washington. The Capitol Hill mock Jeopardy tournament “Watson Versus Members” was organized by IBM to highlight the importance of math and science education to the nation’s future. The three-game match pitted Watson against five members of Congress, but only Rep. Rush Holt was able to fend off the supercomputer, saving the night from complete computer domination.

Rep. Holt’s win may seem like a fluke unless you’re aware of his impressive background. A nuclear physicist, Holt helped run the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab before being elected to the House in 1998. He also happens to be a five-time Jeopardy winner.

The congressman shares his thoughts on the experience in an official statement:

I was proud to hold my own with Watson. More importantly, I was proud to join IBM and other members of Congress to highlight the importance of technology. It was fun to out-do Watson in the first round, but this was not just about fun and games. Science and math education and research and development are vital to our nation so we can out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.

Congressman Holt performed especially well in the categories of “Presidential Rhyme Time” (clue: Herbert’s military strategy; answer: What is Hoover’s Maneuvers) and “Also a Laundry Detergent” (clue: 3-letter nickname for the Beatles; answer: What is Fab). He also correctly identified hippophobia as the fear of horses (Category: Phobias).

One of the night’s more memorable moments came when Watson beat opponents Rep. Holt and Rep. Bill Cassidy to the buzzer on the clue: “Ambrose Bierce described this as ‘a temporary insanity curable by marriage.'” Watson provided the correct response: “What is love?”

Watson and Holt were joined by Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Nan Hayworth (R-NY).

Despite Congressman Holt’s impressive win, Watson still has the edge on humans, at least when it comes to games of trivia. The final score for Watson: $40,300. Congressmen: $30,000.

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