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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Elementary? Hardly

As someone who reads tech blogs and listens to tech podcasts -- and with a girlfriend who watches "Jeopardy!" daily -- I was aware that Monday night would bring the first of three episodes of the popular quiz show in which two past champs would take on IBM's new supercomputer, Watson.

I had a passing curiosity, but I wasn't exactly counting down the days. I figured with all the information that could be packed into, say, an iPhone, jamming enough knowledge to beat two of the game's best into a supercomputer with multiple servers and cooling systems wouldn't be too hard for the braniacs at IBM. But watching Monday night I was reminded of just how trickily "Jeopardy!" questions -- or answers, if you prefer -- can be phrased.

 "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, left, with contestants
Ken Jennings, Watson, and Brad Rutter.

Watching Watson (well, his avatar anyway) parse the keywords, come up with three ranked answers and then either buzz in or not with its top guess was truly fascinating to watch. Strangely, his performance in Monday's first round reminded me most of a poker player who gets hot -- Watson jumped out to a lead quickly -- before going on tilt -- the computer gave several incorrect answers in a later stretch.

Those who want to know more about Watson can go here. You might also want to visit the official "Jeopardy!" site.

It was good television. Skipping the next two shows? That does not compute.

-- Mark Meszoros

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