I'm on my way home from my first Pulse event in Slots Vegas, the people watching capital of the solar system. It was an extremely productive five days on many levels, but that's another blog post for another day.
For now, I wanted to offer my belated perspective on the IBM vs Jeopardy challenge.
Two weeks ago, as I was walking down the sleepy hallways of the IBM Southbury facility, I noticed a small flyer hanging on the wall near the cafeteria. As I got closer to it, the familiar JEOPARDY logo caught my eye. The flyer was promoting the Watson Jeopardy challenge, and encouraged employees and their families to watch it live in the IBM auditorium later that week.
My immediate thought was that it had been at least five years since I had been invited to an after-hours IBM function in the building. I then realized that this would be a great and increasingly rare opportunity to gather my wife and two kids together for an impromptu "family night" activity . (Now that my kids are getting older, and are more and more immersed in the social and sports scenes around town, I recognize how special and valuable these little family outings can be).
After a quick trip over to Subway for a couple of $5 footlongs, we headed up to the sprawling IBM campus. As we strolled through the darkened hallways, my wife and I got my kids up to speed on what they were about to witness. In order to make it even more of a tangible experience for them, we took a quick detour past the enormous server farms in the "B" building. Once there, we peeked through the small glass pane at the top of door, and I pointed to a cluster of servers that was similar in stature to Watson. My 10 year old son stared at the large black mass of iron, which was as tall and wide as about 10 refrigerators, and asked where the monitor was.
When we arrived outside the auditorium, I was surprised at how many other IBMers (and THEIR families) had also heeded the call to attend this event. However, I was even more surprised at the spread of food that was laid out by the catering staff: everything from crudite to mini-quiches, to swedish style meatballs and chicken skewers (why did I eat that entire footlong!!).
As we entered the near full auditorium, one of the engineers from the Watson project was providing some history of the supercomputer that was about to challenge the two most successful Jeopardy contestants in the history of the show. Despite the extremely reader-unfriendly powerpoint charts that our host was speaking to (he should have had marketing create them!), my son and 14 year old daughter seemed highly engaged in the presentation and discussion. Of course, their enthusiasm was soon severely dampened when the host asked if there were any questions, and their inquisitive dad quickly raised his hand.
When the game started, my 10 year old (who had never seen Jeopardy before) was clearly engaged, and was openly rooting for the smart planet placard with the funny robotic voice in the middle slot. My daughter was thrilled to see a category on fashion, and was nearly elated to actually answer two of those questions correctly!
As the game progressed, nearly everyone in the room began to cheer Watson on. We all laughed out loud when Watson wagered odd amounts of money, and groaned as one when Watson missed a question that WE all knew the answer to.
When Watson answered his Double Jeopardy question correctly, a loud roar emanated from the home crowd. Machine had bested man, and my kids were clapping as loud as anyone in the room.
It was a historic night for IBM, a fun family night for my wife and I, and an evening that I'm betting my kids will remember for a long time.
...Oh and by the way, as a result of asking a question during the pre-screening, I received a cool mustard colored IBM t-shirt with the old school logo, which my daughter quickly adopted and inserted into the top of her pajama rotation.