After a month of buildup, anticipation, and Skynet-induced fright, IBM’s Watson supercomputer made its big Jeopardy! debut on TV, and the result was (SPOILER ALERT) a tie. But an interesting sort of tie. Watson and human Brad Rutter both ended round one of the quiz show tied at $5,000 each, with former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings trailing at $2,000. Earlier in the match, though, things looked a lot grimmer for mankind: At one point, the score was $200 for each human, $5,200 for Watson.
So what stopped the giant XBox-looking thing from sweeping domination and eventual subjugation of the human race? Wordplay, partly. In response to the clue, “Stylish elegance, or students who all graduated the same year,” Watson answered fairly confidently with “chic.” (The correct answer was “class.”)
And then, there were the times when Watson’s lack of humanity caused it to make mistakes that the worst human Jeopardy! bungler wouldn’t: One particularly odd exchange happened when Ken Jennings incorrectly answered a decades question with the ’20s, and Watson immediately followed by responding, “What are the 1920s.” Trebek, with exasperation: “No, Ken said that.” But the glitches in Watson’s behavior actually serve to highlight the difficulty of IBM’s achievement: They remind us that Watson really is a supercomputer answering knotty questions without training wheels, rather than just a really smart guy in a box with Google.