Stephen Baker

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Final Jeopardy: First-week coverage

February 20, 2011Jeopardy book

On the first Sunday morning that the (physical) Final Jeopardy has been out, I thought I'd take a few minutes to round up and link to the coverage. Only a masochist, or someone determined to expose how often I repeat myself, would read all of these links. Probably better to pick and choose. But I wanted to have it all together in one post for future reference, and also to thank all those who spent part of their week writing or talking about the book.

Andrew Dunn reviewed it for Bloomberg News. I was happy to see him quote a couple of the paragraphs I liked. They sometimes include little winks or flourishes that would routinely get the ax at BusinessWeek. After a story had gone through the editing process, I'd tell my wife, "Well, one of my three jokes got through." Publishers Weekly also weighed in with a very generous review. And on Friday Gizmodo published an excerpt from Chapter Three.

My friend Mitch Joel, Montreal social media champ extraordinaire, channeled our interview into a host of different outlets. He released it on his Twist Image podcast. Then he created a newspaper column, which was syndicated across Canada. That guy is getting a signed copy, as soon as my box arrives from Boston.

Doug Henschen at Information Week takes one of most thorough and, as you might expect, tech savvy looks at the book and the competition. Don Tennant talked to me for quite a while one morning on the phone, and then published the interview on the ITBusinessEdge site. He was interested in some of the strategic issues for IBM, and how Watson-like machines could generate a public backlash.

Tom Ashbrook had me and David Gondek (one of the characters in my book) on his On Point show. Also on NPR, Ira Flatow invited me to Science Friday. (That was a little over a week ago) It was pre-empted in some markets by the fall of Hosni Mubarak. I'd have to admit that the stations had their priorities straight. But would-be listeners can listen to the podcast. I also had nice chats with John Williams on Chicago's WGN and Minneapolis' WCCO. And if you have a half hour, you can watch the panel on Watson, including chief scientist David Ferrucci, that I moderated on the TED network. I also talked to Michael Smerconish on Philadelphia's Big Talker, 1210, a station where I used to carry out a bit of mischief. And while I can't find the podcasts, I serenaded rush-hour drivers in the UK and Canada with quick turns on the BBC and CBC.

The Wall Street Journal and its various offshoots have paid a lot of attention to the book. It started with the excerpt two weeks ago. Last week, Steven Kurutz on the Speakeasy blog carried an interview with me about the partial ebook strategy. Ryan Sager invited me as a guest on the Ideas Market blog. Simon Constable and Lauren Goode had me on their Digits show. Arik Hesseldahl closely covered the competition on AllThingsD, and he followed up each round with a skype conversation with me, which he turned into podcasts.

Alexandra Petri, on the Washington Posts's Compost blog writes about Watson's ability on word play. The most worrisome aspect of Watson, she notes, is that we've taught a machine to understand "bad puns," which are the lowest level of humor. (It probably won't be long until machines are polluting our linguistic landscape with bad puns of their own.) Now in the course of the hundreds of interviews I did for the book, that was one point that never came up.

Jonah Lehrer put Watson's intelligence into perspective on his blog on the Wired site. And like the Watson skeptics in my AI chapter, he notes that AI researchers have a long way to go, and can draw valuable lessons from the far more efficient human brain. (I responded to one of his points yesterday.)

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe each published my op-eds about Watson. I later had a nice chat with Ben Zimmer, the On Language columnist for the New York Times Magazine. He followed up on his Atlantic blog. And we met again on Brian Lehrer's show on New York's WNYC. A day later, CNET's Rafe Needleman invited me and Brian Christian, author of the forthcoming The Most Human Human to discuss Watson's triumph on his Roundtable show. Brian, like Ben, focused on Watson's linguistic shortcomings. He found that some of Watson's easy responses, such as lyrics to Beatles songs, were simple for computers. I would argue that that yes, Jeopardy has certain clues that Watson could have gotten in its infant days. And there are others it still botches. But in the last three years, the development has lifted its precision from about 30% to more than 80% of Jeopardy clues. That 50% gain represents what is new for computers. And those who focus on the easiest 30% or the hardest 15% tend to skip over it.

Daniel Schiller blogged about the book on SmartDataCollective, Alex Davis published an interview on BuzzerBlog. Jennifer Wagner's review of the book got picked up in number of places, including Seattle PI. And Dan Sampson reviewed it for CultureMob. For a far more skeptical look at the book, you might look at Graham Storrs' review. He wanted more details about the hardware and software inside the machine. My former BW colleague Steve Hamm wrote this review on IBM's Smarter Planet blog.

I'm sure I'll add more links as I find and recall them.

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