A few weeks ago, when I first read that IBM was pitting its supercomputer, Watson, against contestants on Jeopardy, my first thought was: Why did you name it Watson and not Holmes? This poem sprung up from that thought, and I forgot about it until this week when Watson crushed the humans in the game.
You can listen to the podcast I had done, too, of the poem.
Why, I wonder, is it Watson
and not Holmes
who is the spirit of the answer machine –
Wasn’t it Holmes who uncovered the truths
by means of the scantest of clues?
Wasn’t it Holmes who silently let his gears churn
to make the most of improbable connections?
Wasn’t it Holmes who asked questions that seemed irrelevant
only to later turn on the pin of relevance?
Wasn’t it Holmes?
And where was Watson?
Acting as the foil, watching and wondering
and waiting to beat Truth over the head
with his London umbrella
in hopes of forcing a confession.
Or is it always Watson, and never Holmes,
who solved the murders,
and therefore it was I, the reader,
who was left in the dark,
never understanding the mystery to begin with?
Like many, I thought it funny that Ken Jennings used a Simpson’s quote for his final answer, and I also found his essay on Slate about his thoughts on matching wits against the machine, and why he realized that the humans were “the away team” in this experiment.
Peace (in the clues),