My Somewhat Belated Advice to Watson, the Jeopardy! Supercomputer

Dear Watson,

Congratulations on your recent Jeopardy! victory — I think it’s fair to say that you’re the most formidable contestant in the history of the game. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re probably not the show’s most popular contestant; I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re overlooked when they send out invitations for the next Tournament of Champions. If, however, you do get the chance to play publicly in the future, there are a few things you could do to increase your popularity.

First, work on your buzzer skills. Buzzing in as quickly as you can may seem like a good strategy, but in reality, it’s making you somewhat unlikable. We all know that the ability to push the buzzer quickly is a huge advantage in Jeopardy!, but most of us like to pretend that’s not the case. We like to think that contestants who buzz in first do so because they figured out the answer first, or because they’re risk-takers, or because they’re desperate — really, any reason having to do with their thought processes and not their button-pressing skills. If you consistently buzz in first any time you want to answer a question, it feels like you have an unfair advantage. So, add a short delay before you buzz in — I’ll leave it to you to figure out how long the delay should be, based on your standing in the game, your opponents’ buzzer speeds, and how certain you are of the answer. Every once in a while, be sure to buzz in too late when you’re pretty certain that you have the right answer — you’ll gain extra sympathy if it looks like you lost out on an opportunity to give a correct answer just because one of your opponents has opposable thumbs.

It would also help if you could actually be seen pressing the button on the buzzer. Ditch your current button-pressing mechanism, and go for something a little more retro; I’d suggest something modeled on the arms from the robot in the old Lost In Space TV series. You can also use those arms for a little self-deprecating humor — when you get a question wrong, you can flail your arms around and say something adorably computer-y, like “does not compute” or “brain the size of a planet, and they expect me to answer trivia questions all day” or “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”.

And speaking of things that are (or, in this case, aren’t) adorable — lose that screen-saver thing on your display. Honestly, people see those things all day at work, and work is the last thing they want to be reminded of when they’re at home watching game shows on TV. Instead, replace it with a slide show of adorable kittens and puppies — I’m sure you have a huge collection of public-domain puppy and kitten images in one of your databases. Or you could take this a step further, and invite viewers to send in pictures of their own pets, and possibly babies; this way, people whose photos are selected will feel even more invested in your performance.

I hope this advice has been helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions, or if you’d like to use any of my cat pictures.

5 thoughts on “My Somewhat Belated Advice to Watson, the Jeopardy! Supercomputer

  1. Agreed on the buzzer thing, the desperate “i know this” presses do build a little empathy. Maybe they should have had Watson in a tournament, half with his buzz in method, half with the Lost In Space claw hands.

    1. Yeah, me too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to flail my arms about wildly but stopped myself, because I realized that if I did that with my standard human arms, people would stare.

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