Jennings Explains Jeopardy Loss to Watson

In the final analysis, Watson's dismantling of human Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter was so one-sided as to render any rematch unlikely: After all, Watson will only get better; Jennings and Rutter, not so much.

Jennings, in an article he wrote for Slate, offers his explanation of why the computer prevailed. (And, for the handful of you who may not have fully appreciated the "overlord" message that Jennings penned underneath his Final Jeopardy response, we'll provide the background.)

[Tech "firsts" that made a President's day.]

From Jennings:

"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. That machine zeroes in on key words in a clue, then combs its memory (in Watson's case, a 15-terabyte data bank of human knowledge) for clusters of associations with those words. It rigorously checks the top hits against all the contextual information it can muster: the category name; the kind of answer being sought; the time, place, and gender hinted at in the clue; and so on. And when it feels "sure" enough, it decides to buzz. 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."

Continuing the case that his foe showed more human-like qualities than may have been apparent, Jennings reaches for geek self-deprecation:

"Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman."

(Rim shot)

"But unlike us, Watson cannot be intimidated."

And it was with his on-air final comment - "I for one welcome our new computer overlords" -- scribbled under his Final Jeopardy response, that Jennings best summed up his attitude toward this failed attempt to beat IBM's best: There's not much left to do but laugh.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in laughing out loud at the overlord line, which, as most of you know, is based on what might be called the overlord of all Internet memes. However, I know from experience that even the most well-known memes may require explaining to those who have better things to do with their lives than keep up with such conventions.

Hence the Web site "Know Your Meme" has joined Snopes.com and IMDb in the pantheon of indispensible Internet sources. Here's KYM on overlord:

"The Overlord meme is a popular snowclone based on the following phrasal template: 'I, for one, welcome our new X overlords (or masters).' X in the phrase refers to (often in a humorous or overgeneralized fashion) any powerful entity with overwhelming strength; Sometimes that entity is a government or corporate power, but has also been seen applied to kittens walking on their hind legs as farcical declaration of rapid evolution. ... The 1977 film adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells short story Empire of the Ants (starring Joan Collins) is allegedly the origin of the phrase 'I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.' "

But it is The Simpsons that receive credit for popularizing the meme to an extent such that Ken Jennings would use it to express his final capitulation to Watson.

"The quote gained popularity after the 1994 episode of The Simpsons, 'Deep Space Homer,' when news announcer Kent Brockman believes the Earth to be under invasion by giant space ants. Fearing for his life, he announces his willingness to collaborate with the insectoid invaders: 'One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.' "

So all hail Watson, for resistance is futile.

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