Ben Hider/Getty Images
Ben Hider/Getty Images
Ken Jennings is taking his loss like a man—calmly and logically.
"There's no shame in losing to silicon," the one-time game-show champ writes on Slate.com, analyzing his recent loss to IBM supercomputer Watson in a three-day Jeopardy! exhibition match which saw Jennings and fellow record-setter Brad Rutterget creamed by more than $50,000 apiece.
"After all," Jennings continues, "I don't have 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of reference works at my disposal—nor can I buzz in with perfect timing whenever I know an answer. My puny human brain, just a few bucks worth of water, salts, and proteins, hung in there just fine against a jillion-dollar supercomputer."
Doesn't he mean a jillion-dollar superhero?
"This was to be an away game for humanity," the brainiac from Washington writes in recalling how he accepted his role as technology-opposing villain when he first caught sight of Watson's avatar, the actual computer too massive and wiry (literally) to squeeze into the studio.
"A Watson loss would be invigorating for Luddites and computer-phobes everywhere, but bad news for IBM shareholders," Jennings continues. "I expected Watson's bag of cognitive tricks to be fairly shallow, but I felt an uneasy sense of familiarity as its programmers briefed us before the big match: The computer's techniques for unraveling Jeopardy! clues sounded just like mine.
"This is all an instant, intuitive process for a human Jeopardy! player, but I felt convinced that under the hood my brain was doing more or less the same thing."
Then again, being part-machine would explain his unprecedented 74-match winning streak...
"Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player," Jennings acknowledges. "It's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman. But unlike us, Watson cannot be intimidated. It never gets cocky or discouraged. It plays its game coldly, implacably, always offering a perfectly timed buzz when it's confident about an answer."
This is all starting to sound horribly scary, but Jennings appreciates the good intentions of the IBM scientists who constructed and programmed Watson, which they said was partly inspired by Jennings' seemingly superhuman showing on Jeopardy!
"To them, I wasn't the good guy, playing for the human race. That was Watson's role, as a symbol and product of human innovation and ingenuity," Jennings writes. "So my defeat at the hands of a machine has a happy ending, after all."
Helped along, he admits, by the fact that he at least beat Brad Rutter.