Saturday, February 19, 2011

Today's fortune: February 19, 2011

Today's fortune: Your clever mind will lead you to many rewards.

Hard to believe I've been doing this for 50 days now. Even harder to believe that still leaves 315 days to go.

For the very first time in this project, I've come across a fortune that falls perfectly in line with my pre-planned activities. So much so, it's a little eerie.

"Your clever mind will lead you to many rewards." Guess what I'm doing this very night? I'm participating in a trivia event, and the winning team walks away with a cash prize.

Earlier this week, my friend Phil asked me to be a last-minute replacement on his team for this yearly event. I assume he asked the smartest person he knew. And when that person turned him down, he asked me. Either way, I'm flattered, and I look forward to it. I've never taken part in a trivia contest, although I've always been intrigued.

I watched with great interest the news clips of the computer Watson taking on the game show "Jeopardy." Watson kicked butt, which is a little intimidating to our puny human brains, and the first sign that "The Matrix" is actually a documentary. What I found most interesting was one of the items Watson got wrong. In the category U.S. Cities, the "answer" was "Its largest airport was named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle." The correct question, of course, is "What is Chicago?"
Watson answered, "What is Toronto?"

Toronto is not a U.S. city, and its largest airport was named after a former Prime Minister. (A smaller Toronto airport, however, was named after a World War One fighter pilot.)

How could Watson screw the pooch so badly on a relatively simple question? The computer wizards at IBM say it's in the way the question was worded. While the language is simple enough for the human brain to understand, it's difficult for a computer to break down. As the IBM Watson website says: "This is just one of those situations that's a snap for a reasonably knowledgeable human but a true brain teaser for the machine."

In this one instance, the perfectly ordinary and completely extraordinary human brain was much more capable than the most advanced computer in the world. Maybe there is some hope for the human race after all. Still, I'm keeping an eye on my wife's laptop.

"Jeopardy" has recently held a fascination for me. When I was a youngster, I always watched the show and marveled at the geniuses who rattled off correct answers one after another. The questions seemed impossible, and unless the categories included "Baseball stars of the 1980s," I was lucky if I got two questions right during an entire half-hour broadcast.

But a few years ago, after not seeing the program at any length for over a decade, I sat down to watch an episode of "Jeopardy." I was stunned to discover I was able to answer more than two-thirds of the questions.

Does that mean the child version of Matt Kelsey would consider the adult Matt Kelsey a genius? Probably, but the child version would be so disappointed that I wasn't a world-famous architect, he really wouldn't care how smart I was.

I have a good feeling my clever mind might help our trivia team find success tonight. That is, if Phil doesn't drag us down. I'll post the results tomorrow.