Review: Final Jeopardy

Review: Final Jeopardy

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything
by Stephen Baker
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“I FOR ONE WELCOME OUR NEW COMPUTER OVERLORDS”
–Ken Jennings
added to his Final Jeopardy answer
competing against IBM’s Watson
Jeopardy, February 16 2011

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of IBM’s Watson system beating Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy…but it’s also easy to overestimate it. 

Stephen Baker’s book on the contest does an excellent job of showing how complex the issues were for IBM in getting to that televised battle of the brains.

Oh, it’s not just the technical issues, although those are important.

It was also the business issues. 

How do you first convince IBM it makes sense?   How do you get them to abandon an approach they’ve been using for years?

If your computer system loses on Jeopardy, how does that look?  Even worse, what happens if it wins…and wins so big that people are afraid of it?

That’s what Baker gets right.  More than anything else, this book gives you insight into what happens when a company chooses innovation and public risk…and that company is IBM.  They talk about public image as much as the absolutely incredible technical feat that is Watson.

I like what’s in the book.  However, there could have been more to it.  We get some idea of the conflict between what IBM and wanted and what Jeopardy wanted.  That could have been interesting: to see those two perspectives.  But we only get what IBM thinks of the Jeopardy team. 

There also could have been more humor, more context.  The book absolutely works as an account of the IBM team and the match.  The science we learn relates to the match.

I enjoyed reading it and looked forward to the next chapter.  Watching Watson grow from an infant to the computer that won Jeopardy is fascinating.  The way that some scientists derided the way Watson worked is interesting to read.

It’s a satisfying meal…it just could have used a bit more spice.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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One Response to “Review: Final Jeopardy”

  1. On our guest Kindle | I Love My Kindle Says:

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