It's every geek's fantasy. Taking your place on the set of Jeopardy to show the world how smart you are. But the quickest way to ruin that fantasy is having Watson show up next to you.
"Watson" is the IBM supercomputer that pummeled the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all time in February 2011. Now, the set built especially for that three-day trivia massacre is on display at the Computer History Museum. You can try your wits against Watson himself.
"You start off thinking, 'Oh, it's just a computer, no big deal. And then you realize A -- the questions are hard and you mostly don't know the answers to them. B -- you notice Watson does mostly know the answers to the questions," said Michael Karasick, IMB's vice president of research software.
Karasick teamed up with me to go up against Watson. History and geography got ugly, but we held our own in business and tech. But in the end, Watson beat us by more than double. As the museum's curator points out, you don't feel cheated, just outsmarted.
"I think when people saw Watson on Jeopardy, they forgot that it was a computer. And really just treated it as another contestant," said Dag Spicer, the Computer History Museum senior curator.
Of course, Watson isn't all about just embarrassing people who thought they were smart. Watson's ultimate purpose is to help people, by quickly digging up information they may not have thought to look for themselves.
"Give it a question in English -- and you get an answer," said Karasick.
Watson is already being used in medicine, but before long, he'll be in customer service. Soon, tech support will just ask Watson a question, instead of putting you on hold.
"The learning curve for a new call center operator is now much, much shorter because you've got this really great helper. And that's where we really see Watson going, is it's going to be a great helper in a lot of domains," said Karasick.