It turns out that it really does take a rocket scientist to beat Watson, the Jeopardy-winning computer.
US representative Rush Holt of New Jersey – a five-time champion during the trivia show’s original run 35 years ago – topped the IBM computer in a Jeopardy-style match of congressmen-vs-machine held at a Washington hotel.
Though Mr Holt isn’t the first human to beat Watson, the victory adds to the 62-year-old Democrat’s already-impressive CV as a former State Department arms control expert and ex-leader of the federal Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
He told reporters: “I wonder if Watson wasn’t having a low-voltage night, because I certainly didn’t expect to score higher than the computer.”
Mr Holt built a lead in categories including “Presidential Rhyme Time”, in which the correct response to “Herbert’s military strategy” was “Hoover’s manoeuvres”. The congressman also correctly identified hippophobia as the fear of horses.
Watson beat him to the buzzer with “love” when prompted on what Ambrose Bierce described as “a temporary insanity curable by marriage”.
Holt played the first round along with Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican. At the end of the round, Holt had earned 8,600 dollars (£5,281) to Watson’s 6,200 dollars (£3,816).
But the computer ultimately triumphed in later rounds against the other representatives – New York Republican Nan Hayworth, Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes and Colorado Democrat Jared Polis – to amass a combined 40,300 dollars (£24,807) to the humans’ 30,000 dollars (£18,467).
Watson, designed specifically to excel at the type of answers-and-questions format used on the game show Jeopardy, took 25 IBM scientists four years to create.
Humans have beat Watson before, including sparring matches with various players held in the fall to prepare for a televised match with top human Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter; and during rehearsals, when Jennings won at least once.