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Does Watson Think a Poor Workman Blames Yogi Berra?

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Slade Sohmer


By Slade Sohmer on February 17, 2011


Ken Jennings turned to the wisdom of faux newsman Kent Brockman during the third and final night of Jeopardy!’s much-hyped IBM Challenge. With the artificially intelligent Watson firmly ahead of Jennings and fellow human challenger Brad Rutter, the former 74-time champion scribbled “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords” along with his correct Final Jeopardy! answer.

Watson dominated Jeopardy!’s two greatest human winners, overcoming the mistake of thinking Toronto was a U.S. city to rack up $77,147, compared to $24,000 for Jennings and $21,600 for Brad Rutter. Watson’s fast, has a deep, well-rounded knowledge base and makes odd wagers that make the audience laugh. But there’s also great amounts of comedy in the answers Watson didn’t give, and while everyone will justifiably spend the morning praising the machine, I’ve come here to bury it.

For those of you who didn’t watch any of the three broadcasts, directly after Alex Trebek finished asking every question (or the answer?), a graphic would appear containing Watson’s top three choices and its confidence level in each. If Watson’s confidence surpassed a certain threshold, it would ring in. And if you paid close attention to the second and third choices on Watson’s list, you were no doubt as amused as I was over the past three days. Here are my favorites from Wednesday night’s contest.

Watson, as you can see, was pretty sure of the correct answer, and in the end, gave the correct answer: tools. But It’s hard to know which of its two other choices is more interesting. I couldn’t possibly imagine that a workman would have built up the small fortune it would take to hire a full-time personal explorer. Then again, if I performed poorly at my workaday job and needed someone to blame, my full-time personal explorer would first in line. “Sorry, boss, I totally fucked up the Vandalay job, I know. You know whose fault it was, though? Hernando de Soto. You know, my explorer? Guy’s a lazy jerk.”

While Watson’s second choice appears to be stranger — it’s a poor workman who blames Yogi Berra? — it does somehow fit more with computer search algorithms. Trebek’s answer is an old saying, and who’s the most famous person associated with old sayings: Yogi. In fact, type in “poor workman blames his tools yogi berra” into Google, and 893 results pop up. Couple that with the fact that a baseball catcher is said to wear “the tools of ignorance,” and you can almost see where Watson would be confused.

United Airlines, easy. United Breaks Guitars, understandable. Futch? WTF is a Futch? Is it, like, an obscure low-cost carrier? So off to Google, where typing in Futch brings up the dreaded Urban Dictionary. That’s where we find out that a “futch” is either: “a lesbian who has feminine looks but masculine dress and/or style. femme + butch = futch”; or “a butch who acts feminine, as opposed to being dominit one in a lesbian reletionship”; or “Not exactly feminine… but not exactly butch (in terms of being a lesbian.).”

There’s literally no way Watson could think a “femme + butch” is also an airline that flies the friendly skies, right? Right. Unfortunately, my immature hilarity ended when the real connection was made.

Turns out, a musician named Bing Futch, who in the mid-’80s started the Christian techno-punk trio Crazed Bunnyz, was en route to a 2009 performance in Fort Wayne, Indiana (home of former Mayor Harry Baals, by the way) with his Americana band Mohave. Northwest Air Lines promptly broke his mountain dulcimer, which, incidentally, is his primary instrument. Having seen Dave Carroll’s YouTube hit about United breaking his guitar, Futch decided to write his own song about Northwest. Got all that? Yeah, that story’s almost as ridiculous as the lesbian definition.

Yes, Laura Linney played Abigail Adams in the HBO miniseries based on the David McCollough book. So it’s not a stretch — though, I wonder why Watson picks Linney over Pig Vomit Paul Giamatti, who actually played John Adams. There’s just something peculiar about artificial intelligence — for as lightning quick and capable as Watson is, even the dumbest hayseed wouldn’t think the chick from The Truman Show was also moonlighting as the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of our second president.

Any controls at…Austria? Watson, my dear bot, a brief word of advice: YOU CANNOT F*&KING CONTROL AUSTRIA!!!!1!1!! NOBODY CONTROLS AUSTRIA!!11! Well, except maybe the Habsburgs for a bit more than six full centuries. And, of course, Hitler’s Nazi Germany from 1938-1945. Aside from that, NOBODY CNTROLS AUSTIRA, WATSON. NOT THE EU, NOT SCHENGEN, NOBODY.

This one’s only noteworthy because we actually had the opportunity to see Watson’s top three choices change while on the screen. Also, the category stumped the machine here — Watson misunderstood that each answer would be in the form of a computer key. We’re not done for yet, humans!

The answer was clearly “Home.” This was the fifth clue in this category, and Watson had first begun to figure out that a computer key was necessary. Hence, the “delete key” choice, which would make for the oddest arrangement to “Delete Key Is Where the Heart Is” ever played.

But you can almost hear Watson’s inner monologue when it switched from an Elvis Presley — who did a bang-up job recording that tune in 1961 — to encryption. “No, wait, not Elvis Presley, it can’t be Elvis Presley, it’s not ‘Elvis Presley is Where the Heart Is’…no, no. Think, Watson, THINK! Oh, wait, could it be encryption?! Encryption is where the heart is.”

Clearly, Watson over-compensated for not knowing about the “keys” for the first four clues. But something tells me encryption is the opposite of where the heart is. The heart is about love and openness. Encryption’s about keeping secrets from enemies and spouses. Sneaky, Watson.

Ahh, our first taste of freakiness from Watson. When the computers come and take over our world, make sure you’re wearing a clean pair of underwear. This is another case, like the Linney answer, in which for every ounce of wicked smahtness in Watson’s server capacity, even the worst Jeopardy! contestant ever wouldn’t think the answer here is “panties.” I’d give anything to see Watson ring in and answer that one with “panties” actually. Cue the Watson computer voice: “What…are…panties.” Watson, you perv.

Can anyone help figure out this mystery? Because when I type in “Wellington panties” into Google, the very first hit is from Paul, who’s located in Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand, and who is selling his used panties: “Hi ,my name is paul a 34 year old cross dresser (M2F).I am wanting to sell of my collection of panties and currently have over 150 pieces to distribute . Price is for two pair of panties free postage within NZ. If you would like me to wear g string or full brief,please send me a message I would be more than happy to full-fill your request.I have a mixture of hey sister,elle mcpherson,bendon and fareform.”

By the way, great news on that deal — free postage anywhere in New Zealand. Sorry, Watson, you’ll have to pay full freight from your home in the United States.

Okay, so this last one’s faked by our Wannabe Genius. But it would’ve made for a fun Final Jeopardy!

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