Ken Jennings vs. Watson – A Lesson in Sportsmanship

Once again, a computer beat us at one of our own games but a part of this story deserves more attention. At the conclusion of the last great man vs. machine contest, Garry Kasparov stormed off the stage after losing a six game match to IBM’s lethal chess computer, Deep Blue. Kasparov behaved like a third grader who’d just been knocked out of an elementary school chess tournament. To be fair, up to that point Kasparov had not had much experience with losing. Below is a short excerpt of the post-match press conference, in which Garry painfully tries to convince the audience he kinda’, sorta’, didn’t really lose. It’s not pretty. [Old nerds like me will excitedly note the presence of Unix co-inventor and chess software guru Ken Thompson sitting with the Deep Blue team.]

This week we saw another epic human/computer challenge. Again silicon triumphed over carbon but this time around the human reaction was quite different. Here’s how the greatest Jeopardy player in history reacted to his loss:

And here’s what he had to say in his post-match press conference (from John Markoff’s excellent NY Times article):

“I had a great time and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” said Mr. Jennings. “It’s not about the results; this is about being part of the future.”

In defeat, Ken Jennings was gracious and humble and he taught us all, especially our kids, a valuable lesson in sportsmanship. As I watched this fascinating contest, I was very proud of Ken’s performance, especially after the match was over.

4 thoughts on “Ken Jennings vs. Watson – A Lesson in Sportsmanship”

  1. I agree with your sentiment, but if i was going to be part of “human comeback” to rage against the machines i think i would probably line up behind Gary. Ken gives me the impression that he thinks we are toast and should go about farming ourselves out as portable biomass heaters.

  2. We *are* toast. I give us about six more generations until computers have us under their collective thumb. I’m kidding, of course, and, by the way, I’m a huge fan and admirer of GK. But the Deep Blue match was not his finest hour.

  3. Yes, how do you lose gracefully if it involves giving up your livelihood?

    A frustrated buggy-whip craftsman sounds comical. An auto worker who now lubricates robots sounds like re-training. A knowledge worker who tries to work smarter not harder sounds contemporary. A populace who’s every whim is served up by computers sounds uneconomical.

    Maybe evolution has a few laughs saved up for us.

    Thanks for the posts, i do enjoy them.

  4. I don’t think Kasparov’s career was in danger. He was nearing the end of a storied chess career and was already the most well known and respected chess player in the world (many consider him the best to ever play the game). Win or lose, that match was a great promotional vehicle for Kasparov and chess in general. He just succumbed to a bruised ego, which I understand. I agree we’re in a for a bumpy road ahead. :) Thanks for the comments and kind words, Dan.

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