It’s Man vs. Machine in Jeopardy!, But Who Are The Men?

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Contestant Brad Rutter, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek and contestant Ken Jennings.

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Sure, you now know everything about Watson, IBM’s supercomputer that’s wowing the world on the popular game show. But what about the two mere mortals doing their damnedest to halt the rise of the machines? Don’t they deserve your love too?

The start of a new week can always be signified by the familiar Jeopardy! refrain. And, as the world is aware, it’s man vs. machine over these next few days. “You are about to witness what may prove to be an historic competition,” said host Alex Trebek and the standings at the end of day one saw the machine, Watson, in joint first with $5,000 alongside Brad Rutter with Ken Jennings languishing in third with a miserly $2,000. A fine time, then, to learn a little more about these brave souls taking on the might of 10 racks of computer servers running the Linux operating system.

(More on Techland: See more about the men taking part in the game)

Rutter is only the show’s all-time money-winner with $3.25 million. He just celebrated his 33rd birthday and made his name in Jeopardy! folklore back in 2000, when he embarked on his incredible run, which has been supplemented by further appearances. He’s a 1995 graduate of Manheim Township High School in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, where he was on the Quiz Bowl team. Rutter’s one of just 19 people to have been named to the National Academic Championship Hall of Fame. He’s subsequently appeared on a bunch of different quiz shows but clearly couldn’t resist the lure of Hollywood, where he now makes his way as an actor and TV host, along with approximately 83% of California (this number may not be entirely accurate).

(More on Tuned In: See a review of Monday night’s show)

As for Jennings, his unique record is that he holds the longest winning streak at 74 games (though it should be noted that until 2003, one couldn’t stay on for more than five games). He’s a little older than Rutter (36) and his time in the Jeopardy! spotlight came a little later (2005). Post-Jeopardy!, Jennings has not only appeared on other quiz shows but written a book on trivia and culture called Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. He also runs a weekly online quiz, which for full disclosure, this writer participates in and has even got the notoriously difficult question seven correct on occasion (despite his wife wanting to take the credit).

The fact that Rutter currently leads Jennings might not be too much of a surprise: back in 2004, he decisively won the 15-week, 75-show Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions. But whether they can overhaul Watson remains a major doubt. If you can’t wait to find out more, Stephen Baker’s book FINAL JEOPARDY: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything gives a comprehensive backstory to this week’s shows, apart from who won.

(More on See Lev Grossman’s TIME cover story about Singularity)

Watson was pretty clinical throughout Monday’s show though the odd slip-up did occur (which decade Oreo cookies were introduced and not knowing the difference between ‘chic’ and ‘class’ for example). The exhibition tournament continues Tuesday with the Double Jeopardy and Final Jeopardy rounds of this first game and a second, complete game airing Wednesday. The overall winner will collect $1 million though, fear not, if Watson wins, IBM will give the entire amount to charity. What is generous?, if you will. (via AP)

(More on See a video asking if we should fear the likes of Watson.)