Monday, February 14, 2011

I'll Take Unnecessary Gimmicks for $200, Alex...

I've discussed before that I'm a huge fan of Jeopardy. It's actually one of very few shows I watch with any regularity. Since I hope to eventually make it on the show as a contestant, I really enjoy matching wits with each day's contestants, seeing where my knowledge and theirs differ, feeling superior when I can get answers they can't. (Whatever.)

I usually don't watch the show during its "gimmick periods"—the tournaments for young children and high schoolers, and when celebrities appear throughout the season. I don't want to know I'm not smarter than a 4th or an 11th grader, or Al Franken.

And speaking of gimmicks, unless you've been under a rock, you've probably heard that Jeopardy is trying to shake itself up a bit, by bringing on Watson, an actual IBM supercomputer, to challenge the show's two most prodigious contestants, Brad Rutter, who has won the most money in the show's history, and Ken Jennings, whose 74-game winning streak was the stuff of television legend.

Maybe the outcome of this gimmick will somehow surprise me, but I'm truly skeptical. Is this supercomputer, which has had its databases packed to overflowing with books, scripts, dictionaries and whatever other material lead researcher David Ferrucci could load in, a worthy competitor?

To me, win or lose, it doesn't seem fair. If Watson wins, it will prove that computers can outsmart human beings, even at a game that requires more than simple knowledge, but also mastery of the show's "punny" clues. And if the computer loses, was it a fair challenge anyway?

I'll be glued to my television, at least for the first night, but I hope I'm surprised by the way things turn out. I just hope this isn't looked back upon as the week that Jeopardy jumped the shark. Or the supercomputer.

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