- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Note to self: Never play “Jeopardy!” with a supercomputer.

That’s a useful lesson for me or any mortal who has followed the Man vs. Machine faceoff this week on the popular trivia game show, where on Wednesday the second of two exhibition matches sealed the deal: Watson, the IBM-created megabrain, officially buried his flesh-and-blood opponents, veteran “Jeopardy!” champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Watson’s winning score was $41,413 for the day ($77,147 for both games), while Jennings notched $19,200 ($24,000 overall) and Rutter reached $11,200 ($21,600 overall).

For crushing his rivals, Watson gets a total prize of $1 million, which IBM has said will go to the charities World Vision and World Community Grid.

The vanquished Jennings and Rutter get $300,000 and $200,000, respectively, half of which each said they would be donating to charities.

“I for one welcome our new computer overlords,” Jennings wrote alongside his correct Final Jeopardy response (“Dracula” author Bram Stoker), apparently trading on a line from “The Simpsons.” Clearly Jennings is a good sport with a sense of humor.

But where does this leave viewers? Me, I’ll take Mixed Emotions for a thousand, Alex.

Watching this week’s clash, I was reminded of the legend of John Henry, the folk hero from a bygone century who was born with a hammer in his hand and raced against a mechanized, steam-powered drill. He won that race. Then, having made his point, he died of exhaustion.

Fortunately, neither Jennings nor Rutter expired from mental exertion. Nor did they beat the machine.

But these humans put up a fight. Unlike Tuesday, when Watson breezed through most of the half-hour, on Wednesday he seemed distracted, not quite on his game, while his opponents jumped in with correct responses such as Ikea, Robert De Niro, and F1 (the computer key that’s also the abbreviation for Grand Prix auto racing).

Watson also seemed ill-equipped for the “One Buck or Less” category (maybe he should shop more).

But nothing could stop him.

Watching these “Jeopardy!” episodes, I thought of one of cinema’s most devilish control freaks, HAL the computer from the sci-fi masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I wondered what Watson, seemingly so genial as he played the game, would have said had someone ordered him to “open the pod bay doors.”

“I’m sorry, Alex. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Watson might have replied as he went psycho.

Meanwhile, this contest fed my suspicion that longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek might actually be a kindred spirit of Watson. Isn’t there something pleasantly robotic about Trebek’s on-air style? Was he, too, born at IBM?

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