Meet Your ‘Jeopardy!’ Contestants In This Week’s Men vs. Machine Match

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You’ve probably heard all about Watson, the IBM computer that’s capable of understanding natural language. The advanced technology will be competing in Jeopardy against two of the world’s quickest minds from February 14 -16, and there’s a lot at stake with $1 million going to the first place winner, $300,000 going to second place and $200,000 going to third place. (All contestants have agreed to donate at least half of their winnings to charity.)

Being called today’s Deep Blue match, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter will grab their buzzers match their body of knowledge and capability to understand nuanced clues against a supercomputer. Here’s a run down of what you should know about the competitors before you watch the games:

Ken Jennings

Claim To Fame: He currently holds the longest winning streak in Jeopardy history, with 74 games in a row. To date, he’s won $3,022,700 on the game show.

Self-Professed Best Categories: Jennings refers to himself as a big movie and literature buff, but don’t rule him out on any other categories. He’s extremely quick on the buzzer and knows more random knowledge than most of us combined.

Strengths: Besides being the best known Jeopardy contestant – which automatically gives  him a kind of homefield advantage – Jennings has had lots of practice by being the show for such a long stretch. He knows what to expect and playing Jeopardy is an average day of work for him.

Weaknesses: Jennings hasn’t picked up a buzzer for about four years, but he assures Techland he’s still on his game. He lost to Brad Rutter in the Jeopardy Ultimate Tournament of Champions, but his second place finish hasn’t made him any less confident. Oh, and he’s human so factor in nerves, smaller breath of knowledge and slow(er) reflexes.

Does He Fear Man or Machine?: Definitely machine. He’s played humans before, and the machine is new territory.

What He’s Going To Do With The Prize Money: “I think my wife wants a new kitchen,” Jennings said. If he does well, it could be a great Valentine’s Day gift.


Claim To Fame: It’s a machine capable of understanding natural language. While it can’t understand spoken language, it can interpret written clues and derive an answer from several sources. For example, if the clue given said, “This substance is one of the phases of water that appears when it is heated at 212 degrees Fahrenheit,” and the answer has to begin with the letter S, Watson can understand that 212 is the temperature water boils and another word for the gas phase of water is steam.

Self-Professed Best Categories: It’s a machine, so whatever information the IBM researchers inputted into it, it’s scarily good at.

Strengths: Watson knows no human emotions, so it doesn’t get nervous if it is on a losing streak and can’t get psyched out by other players. Although it has to press a button like its competitors, Watson can logically calculate the risk of each possible answer on a question quicker than the other two.

Weaknesses: Sometimes it’s a little too logical and even though it has the right answer (seen by a percentage meter that will be displayed on the screen for the audience), it won’t guess until it’s absolutely sure. It also doesn’t know how to play mind games against its human foes.

Does He Fear Man or Machine?: Watson knows no emotion, but we’re betting that it fears humans who can take it apart as much as they fear it taking over their lives.

What He’s Going To Do With The Prize Money: IBM will donate all winnings to charity, but we hope that at least Watson will get a nice compressed air cleaning out of all of this.

Brad Rutter

Claim To Fame: He’s won the most prize money in Jeopardy history with $3,255,102 and a pair of Chevrolet Camaros – and he beat Jennings in the Jeopardy Ultimate Tournament of Champions.

Self-Professed Best Categories: He’s got a wide base of knowledge, but Rutter excels especially in literature, history and sports.

Strengths: Don’t count him out just because he hasn’t got as much press as Jennings. He’s confident and handles pressure really well so his nerves don’t get shaken up if he’s down some money or answered a few questions wrong in a row. He also played the game a few weeks back so he’s had more recent practice than Jennings.

Weaknesses: Rutter’s human so there’s always a chance for error, plus he admits that Watson can buzz in faster than him even if they both know the answer. It’s down to who can ring in faster, he said, and Jennings is the only human who can match him in speed.

Does He Fear Man or Machine?: Since Watson is the unknown player, Rutter’s more nervous facing off against it. He’s also fearful that Watson’s future progeny will come and get him whether he wins or not. “I sleep with a sawed-off shotgun by the bed just in case,” he joked.

What He’s Going To Do With The Prize Money: He’s always wanted to visit Australia, so he’ll be taking a trip down under with his winnings- far away from Watson.

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