Watson and the Federal Budget

Well, I actually watched a little of Jeopardy last night. You would think I could answer at least some of the questions. What gives with that? And what gives that Watson, a computer, thumped two Jeopardy wizards and former champions?

Full disclosure: I generally only see Jeopardy because it immediately follows Wheel of Fortune. And nobody turns letters better than Vanna White. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I’ll let the folks at NPR do the semi-heavy lifting this a.m. Here’s a blog post, “Jeopardy Suggests That It’s Really Time To Start Worrying About Robots“:

The puny humans are on the ropes.

On Tuesday night’s installment of Jeopardy!, the second night of a three-night challenge, the computer known as Watson gave a pants-down spanking to its two human opponents, champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. According to The New York Times, Watson was the first to buzz in on 25 out of 30 answers in the Double Jeopardy round, and it got 24 of them right. (Ultimately, Watson stumbled only on a question that indirectly involved Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. But honestly, by being completely confused when confronted with O’Hare, the computer only makes itself seem more deeply human.)

Watson has more than $35,000. Rutter has $10,400. Jennings has $4,800. Unless the final round includes a lot of questions requiring contestants to talk about their feelings or about how it feels to wriggle your toes in the freshly mowed grass of spring, things do not look good for our team. And by “our team,” I mean “those of us with brains made of brains.”

But don’t despair. We’re pretty sure there are still things you can do that a computer can’t do. Can a computer cry at Lost when Jack and Hurley were hugging? Can it giggle when a kid in a Darth Vader mask tries to start a Jetta? Can it care to an irrational degree whether the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl? Can it worry about whether it’s going to be replaced by another computer?

Wednesday night will tell the tale. But if Watson wins, you might want to unplug your coffee maker before you go to bed, lest you wake up with it standing over you, answering trivia questions and demanding all your jewelry.

Well, yeah, that’s a concern.

But I’ll opine that we are missing an opportunity here by not pressing Watson into public service, acting as an impartial arbitrator during the months — years? — ahead as members of the administration and Congress — and the related gaggle of hanger-ons (lobbyists, policy wonks and other miscreants) essentially march in place while searching for ways to cut federal spending without gutting economic and future growth and alienating large groups of voters and interest groups.

Nobody Inside the Beltway right now appears to have any answers.

So as this year’s version of the budget game is just under way, let’s call in Watson from the bullpen. I bet he/she/it could put some real heat on the heavy hitters.

And yes. We’ll still have Vanna to help us go gently into that post dinner and happy hour snooze.

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