Coming off the heels of its recent Jeopardy! win, IBM’s Watson computing system faced off against Congress last night for an exhibition match in Washington with five U.S.Congress members.
The bipartisan group put politics aside to test their trivia knowledge and foster conversations about the importance of IT to U.S. global competitiveness and encourage greater focus on math and science education.
The first of three practice rounds pitted Watson against Congressman Bill Cassidy, a Republican representing Louisiana’s 6th congressional district and Representative Rush Holt, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 12th congressional district. A doctor from Baton Rouge, Cassidy posted $1,000 to the board, but it was Representative Holt, a five-time Jeopardy! winner who gave Watson stiff competition. Holt earned $8,600 against Watson’s $6,200 before the game progressed to Double Jeopardy.
Next up, Representative Jared Polis from Colorado’s 2nd congressional district took on Watson and fellow house Democrat Jim Himes from Connecticut’s 4th district for the second practice round. A Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar, Himes relied heavily on his book smarts to post $7,600 and Polis stayed competitive with $6,800. But Watson, a surprising fashionista, went on a tear during the “Always in Fashion” category racking up $22,500.
With Watson’s victory close at hand, Representative Himes took to the podium again, undeterred in the third and final round. Joined by Republican Representative Nan Hayworth, from New York’s 19th district — the birthplace of Watson where much IBM’s research and development was conducted — the two Northeastern members made a valiant effort before Watson closed out the final round of the exhibition match.
Final score: Watson $40,300, Congressional Members $30,000.
But the informal game wasn’t all fun and games. “This practice match is more than a trivia contest,” said Christopher Padilla, Vice President, IBM Governmental Programs. “The technology behind Watson represents a major advancement in computing. In the data intensive environment of government, this type of technology can help organizations make better decisions and improve how government helps its citizens.”