What ‘Jeopardy’ Champ Ken Jennings Learned From Watson

The game-show whiz reflects on his televised loss to IBM’s trivia machine

Ken Jennings lost to a computer — but true to form for the "Jeopardy!" mastermind, he learned something in the process.

Jennings reflected on his loss to the IBM super-computer Watson on the show in a Slate story on Thursday. So what went wrong? Jennings — who captivated the nation with his unprecedented 74-game winning streak on "Jeopardy" in 2004 — said Watson managed to unnerve him from the start, forcing him to make woefully  rash decisions.

"I felt like the underdog," he wrote, "and as a result I started out too aggressively, blowing high-dollar-value questions on the decade in which the first crossword puzzle appeared (the 1910s) and the handicap of Olympic gymnast George Eyser (he was missing his left leg). At the end of the first game, Watson had what seemed like an insurmountable lead of more than $30,000."

Jennings never managed to quite recover from that early rattling. For his second-place showing he received $300,000, half of which will go to charity.

Despite failing to become the game-show equivalent of John Henry, Jennings says there's "no shame in losing to silicon."

"After all, I don't have 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of reference works at my disposal—nor can I buzz in with perfect timing whenever I know an answer. My puny human brain, just a few bucks worth of water, salts, and proteins, hung in there just fine against a jillion-dollar supercomputer."

He adds: "Watson has lots in common with a strong human 'Jeopardy!' player: it's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman."