"I think he had a low-voltage night"
John Connor lives, and he’s a congressman from New Jersey.
Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, who helped run the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab before winning his House seat in 1998, scored a win for humanity on Monday night when he defeated “Watson,” the “Jeopardy”-playing supercomputer that had previously crushed Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the quiz show’s most successful past champions. We caught up with the 62-year-old Holt, himself a former five-time “Jeopardy” winner, on Tuesday.
How does it feel to beat a supercomputer?
I think everybody should understand that Watson was operating — I think he had a low-voltage night. But, of course, “Jeopardy” is fun — we all love to play along, so it’s fun to have the chance to play. But mostly it’s fun to highlight what IBM is highlighting here, which is the importance of innovation and research, and developing new software. Before I came to Congress, I’d been talking about the need for good science education, the need for better investment in research. Because that’s what this is about. That’s what we’re highlighting here.
You worked as a nuclear physicist for 12 years before you ran for Congress. What’s it like to be such a science guy in a Congress that includes creationists, global warming skeptics and other legislators who are not particularly science-friendly?
Well, you know, I worry that some of my colleagues do operate in a fact-free zone [laughs]. But I serve in the House of Representatives, with an emphasis on the word “representative” — this is what we see across America. A lot of people shy away from science; they think that only the computer geeks can do science. And the point is that this is broadly important. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in a lot of different things. I’ve been interested in how people get along — that’s politics. And I’ve been interested in how the world works — that’s science. There’s nothing incompatible with those two [things]. My friends who are scientists appreciate the need for good political process. So, you know, I’ve spent much of my career trying to merge those things. To get scientists involved politically, and to make sure that other people who aren’t scientists — particularly policymakers — support science education for everyone and support research.
How do you counteract those types of assumptions?
Well, in fact, [with] things like “Jeopardy” and Watson. This is fun that everybody can appreciate, and it is a way of highlighting a real message, which is [that] this is the result of people who studied math and science, this is the result of research. It’s a way of highlighting it that is, well, fun.
Did you have a strategy when approaching this computer?
So you didn’t practice?
You know how it is here: We run from one meeting to another meeting, from hearing to floor vote to meeting with constituents to — well, in this case, to an IBM reception where they’d set up a mock “Jeopardy” game. So I was running in and running out, pushing the buzzer as quickly as I could on each question, and hoping that I could beat Watson.
Was there anything distinct about playing a machine as opposed to a person?
No, no, no. The machine takes a little time to think. It just takes a little less time to think than we mere mortals [laughs].
Teresa Cotsirilos is an editorial fellow at Salon. More Teresa Cotsirilos.
More Related Stories
- California Tea Party group files first IRS lawsuit
- Still no polling backlash for Obama
- Oklahoma senator wants to offset tornado aid with other cuts
- Former IRS commissioner to testify on Capitol Hill
- Aloof, shifty Obama: Nixon times ten thousand!
- Anyone regret slashing National Weather Service budget now?
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- Top White House aides knew about IRS probe but didn't tell Obama
- Gohmert: IRS would've "probably shot the Boston Tea Party participants"
- Oregon senator proposes appeal to Monsanto Protection Act
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Beltway scandal machine breaks, knows nothing about America
- Top GOP official: "Sometimes our party does not value" women "as much"
- Colorado Dems fight back against GOP's Voter ID measures
- Watchdogs: ABC "in danger of losing a lot of credibility" on Benghazi saga
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- IRS meltdown was long overdue
- Can a liberal wonk save the Senate?
- Arkansas treasurer charged with extortion
- Corporate greed is poisoning America -- literally
- The new geography of poverty
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.