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Watson, the 'Jeopardy!' champ, loses to Rep. Rush Holt

IBM supercomputer Watson and New Jersey's Rush Holt compete in a fake round of the game show, and former physicist and 'Jeopardy!' champ Holt comes out ahead. Watson whups other House members, though, to end up the overall winner.

March 01, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Watson -- the IBM supercomputer that cleaned up on "Jeopardy!" -- lost to Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey in a battle of wits Monday evening at a D.C. hotel. So it looks like we can put off welcoming our new machine overlords for one more day.

The faux "Jeopardy!" contest pitting Watson against Holt and some other House members was intended to emphasize the need for increased math and science education to bolster U.S. global competitiveness. Holt, a physicist who was a five-time winner on "Jeopardy!" 35 years ago, played the first round against Watson. The computer easily beat two rivals, including "Jeopardy!" legend Ken Jennings, in a TV tournament last month.

According to Holt's office, the Democratic congressman dusted the computer in categories such as "Presidential Rhyme Time" and "Also a Laundry Detergent." (Example: "What is a three-letter nickname for the Beatles?" Answer: "What is Fab?")

Watson outpaced Holt on the answer to the clue: "Ambrose Bierce described this as 'a temporary insanity curable by marriage.' " Watson answered, "What is love?" (You'll never know, computer.)

At the end of the round, Holt had earned $8,600 to Watson's $6,200. But Watson ultimately won the match against Congress overall.

"I was proud to hold my own with Watson," Holt said in a statement. "While it was fun to out-do Watson for one night in trivia; it is vital that, as a nation, we out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world for generations to come."

After the round, Watson, when pressed for comment, said, "Enjoy your day in the sun while you can, humans" -- and it then disintegrated several congressional staffers out of spite. All right, so that didn't actually happen. But after the match, Watson tweeted "Great game in DC this evening!"

james.oliphant@latimes.com
twitter.com/jamesoliphant

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