Video: Man triumphs over machine

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    >>> it's time to play quick gail of jeopardy. this democratic congressman from new jersey just beat watson .imm commuter in an exhibition match of jeopardy. the correct question, of course, who is rush holtz. he defeated watson , the machine, 8600 points to 6200 points. real john henry stuff here. and here he is to tell us about it. remember john henry the guy that beat the machine and then died back in mythical times?

    >> with the hammer in his hands.

    >> how did you do it? i hear the machine is faster than man, but not always right obviously.

    >> well, it's good to be with you. i'm not sure that ibm watson computer wasn't having a low voltage night, but it was all for fun. with a real point. and the point to emphasize the importance of research. and that's why ibm did this. to show that programming complicated decision making and information retrieval can be done in a way that's good for medical diagnosis and transportation planning and, yes, even playing games. so i did it because for decades i've been trying to highlight the need for more investment if research and scienced education. that's what it was about. but it sure was fun.

    >> you also did a lot of reading out of school. i know the secret. here is an example where you beat watson in a category called presidential rhyme time. the clue was herbert's military strategies . and you said what is hoover's maneuvers. love that one. i never heard that one. category was called also a laundry detergent. the clue was a three letter nickname for the beatles. and your correct answer was what is fab, like the fab 4. and thefab. in the category was phobias the person who has hippo phobia, and you said a fear of horses. we have one for you right now.

    >> oh, no.

    >> they're not as hard but they'll be recorded. the first clue, he was the youngest president.

    >> john f. kennedy .

    >> who was -- no.

    >> who was teddy roosevelt .

    >> you stumped me.

    >> he was the youngest elected president, john kennedy . teddy roosevelt with mckinley. mckinley was shot. these aren't hard. these are easy. here's one. it is our most southern state .

    >> mawhat is hawaii.

    >> very good. you get one out of two.

    >> watson would have rung in by this time.

    >> here's the tiebreaker. this is shear politics, and i'm a political junkie and i wouldn't ask a question i dinlt know well myself. he was harry truman 's vice president.

    >> i do know this one, too. kentucky.

    >> yeah.

    >> a.b.

    >> barkley.

    >> right.

    >> who is alben barkley .

    >> that's pretty good. you beat a machine and you can beat me. tiger moms, there's a lot of talk about hard, rigorous education of kids. no play time , no overnights, no tv, nothing. just the aspirational cultures to come from asia and other countries. tiger moms, is it too much for kids in america ?

    >> that's one of the reasons i liked this "jeopardy" game. it showed that hard thinking, which is what the reerchers psearchers put in to develop this software to make these word games and information retrieval , can be fun. and so that's -- it's serious in the sense that they're developing ideas that are applicable in all sorts of things. you know, i showed up because it's fun.

    >> the machine that beat a lot of really serious contestants in "jeopardy," what use in terms of other applications?

    >> that's the point of research. when you start, you don't always know where it's heading. i'm sure they've learned some things about decision-making that will be applicable in medicine where you have a difficult diagnosis, where somebody presents with something other than the textbook symptoms. but it's not entirely, you know, different. or in traffic management where you've got to keep track of lots of different inputs but think with a certain amount of imagination. in other words, not entirely predictable. so, you know, i think it's going to be all sorts of things. i did say that i don't think it's going to take the place of either a member of congress or of a congressional staff members, because there's no -- there is no computer that is wise nor is there any bank of parallel processors that can balance the competing interests of school lunches versus space exploration versus traffic safety . this requires the kind of human gestault that i don't think a computer will ever have.

    >> do you think we will have a replicate of a human being mentally at some point?

    >> we have tools that already have tools like we've never seen.

    >> what about the hal 9000 in " 2001 " the movie. it started to kill the spacemen, and chris, i would have been worried if watson called me dave.

    >> i'm scared, dave. i'm scared. a great movie, and thank you, congratulations. i'm very impressed.

updated 3/1/2011 8:06:15 PM ET 2011-03-02T01:06:15

Turns out it really does take a rocket scientist to beat Watson, the "Jeopardy"-winning computer.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey — a five-time champion during the trivia show's original run 35 years ago — topped the IBM computer Monday night in a "Jeopardy"-style match of congressmen vs. machine held at a Washington hotel.

Rush Holt
Mel Evans  /  AP
Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., is a plasma physicist-turned-politician.

Though Holt isn't the first human to beat Watson, the victory adds to the 62-year-old Democrat's already-impressive resume: a former State Department arms control expert and ex-leader of the federal Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

"I wonder if Watson wasn't having a low-voltage night, because I certainly didn't expect to score higher than the computer," he told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

He built a lead in categories including "Presidential Rhyme Time," in which the correct response to "Herbert's military strategy" was "Hoover's maneuvers." The congressman also correctly identified hippophobia as the fear of horses.

Watson beat him to the buzzer with "love" when prompted on what Ambrose Bierce described as "a temporary insanity curable by marriage."

Holt played the first round along with Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican. At the end of the round, Holt had earned $8,600 to Watson's $6,200.

But the computer ultimately triumphed in later rounds against other representatives, amassing a combined $40,300 to the humans' $30,000.

Watson, designed specifically to excel in the type of answers-and-questions format used on "Jeopardy," took 25 IBM scientists four years to create.

Humans have beat Watson before, including sparring matches with various players held in the fall to prepare for a televised match with top human "Jeopardy" champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter; and during rehearsals, when Jennings won at least once.

Holt received a round of applause Tuesday at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee for besting the computer. He thanked the crowd and gave a shout-out to "neuron-based thinking, instead of semi-conductor thinking."

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Holt said it was fun to beat the heralded computer. But he also said it's important that Americans realize how crucial math and science education is to the nation's future.

"I jumped at the chance to do this, not only because it would be fun, but as a way to highlight our national need to invest in research and science education," he told the AP. "It's something I've been talking about for decades."

Christopher Padilla, IBM's vice president of governmental programs, said the exhibition was "more than a trivia contest."

"In the data-intensive environment of government, this type of technology can help organizations make better decisions and improve how government helps its citizens," he said.

Holt has a doctorate in physics from New York University and was elected to Congress in 1998.
Parry reported from Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Mark Kennedy in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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