IBM’s Watson Goes to Washington

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill spar “Jeopardy!”-style with the artificial intelligence that is destined to replace them.

IBM's Watson Jeopardy


When lawmaking gets tedious, members of Congress entertain themselves the way the rest of us do–with trivia night.

Only, they do it in style, against the biggest celebrity “Jeopardy!” player of all time, IBM’s trivia-whiz supercomputer, Watson, who recently defeated the reigning world champs on the TV show.

Watson won. No surprise there–he beat Ken Jennings! (Our own writer had better luck.) But the match was closer than you might expect. Turns out there are some pretty smart people in Congress.

In the first round of the match, which was held at a Capitol Hill hotel last night, Watson stared down Reps. Rush Holt, the Democrat of New Jersey, and Bill Cassidy, the Republican of Louisiana. Holt, in fact, is a literal rocket scientist, and five-time “Jeopardy!” champ himself. Holt held his own against Watson, but when he and Cassidy ceded the floor to other members of Congress for the second round, Watson pulled far in the lead. “A surprising fashionista,” reports IBM’s blog, Watson “went on a tear during the ‘Always in Fashion’ category, racking up $22,500.”

At the end of the evening Watson had amassed $40,300 to the Congressional members’ $30,000.

Watson with members of Congress

Since it wouldn’t be good Congressional fun without a bit of grandstanding and pomp, the Congresspeople offered statements about how impressed they were with Watson’s metal brain, and all the things he would be helping us do soon. According to CNN, “Holt expressed admiration for the machine, saying the technology has the potential to be extremely useful at times when tough decision-making is required in fields such as medical diagnosis, air traffic control or situations that require piecing together bits of knowledge.”


It’s unclear yet which of the fates of the ex-celebrity will be Watson’s. Will he travel the globe to “raise awareness” for this or that, like Miss America, twisting his claw in a rigid wave? Will he experiment with drugs and become a burnt-out reality TV star to fuel his addiction? Or will he, as the more likely case seems to be, simply enter national politics?

We’ve put in a request to IBM to tell us more about Watson’s post-“Jeopardy!” destiny.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.