Washington (CNN) - Some brave - and curious - members of Congress made their way over to a Capitol Hill hotel Monday evening to square off against a recent "Jeopardy!" sensation named Watson, the IBM-powered supercomputer who handily defeated the game show's two most successful contestants in history.
IBM invited the congressmen to an informal game of Jeopardy! in order to demonstrate the computer's technology, called "automatic, open domain question answering," which returns answers to complex queries in "natural language," providing users with better access to "unstructured information," said IBM Research scientist Dr. Eric Brown.
Brown, a member of the 25-person team that developed Watson, hosted the congressional contest Monday night.
In the first round, Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, sparred with (a slightly slower version of) the computer, appearing in its now-familiar avatar form, although Watson quickly delighted the crowd of IBM employees and congressional staffers with his quick, human-like answers.
When given the clue, "Ambrose Bierce described this as a temporary insanity cured by marriage," for example, Watson beat both congressmen to the buzzer, answering confidently, "What is love?"
Holt, a five-time Jeopardy! champion, managed to hold his own against Watson for most of the round, but even he could not match Watson's quick wit in the "Always in Fashion" category. In fairness though, perhaps Watson was at an (even) higher advantage in this city, which is known more for its political savvy than its fashion prowess.
After beating Watson $8,600 to $6,200, Holt expressed admiration for the machine, saying the technology has the potential to be extremely useful in situations that require tough decision-making, such as medical diagnosis, air traffic control, and situations that require piecing together bits of knowledge.
Such technology can also be extremely helpful in emergencies, like an outbreak of a food-borne illness or a natural disaster, said Chris Padilla, vice president of IBM Governmental Programs.
"In the modern world, we're all flooded with information," Padilla said. "What Watson can do, is go through all of that data, and in response to a natural language question, rank the order of likely responses in terms of what you asked it in the first place."
In the case of a food borne illness, Watson could "evaluate all the symptoms people are experiencing, help you evaluate what the various causes could be, and determine what types of controls should be put in place in terms of certain food not being sold," Padilla said.
Brown said his team is close to getting the technology to a point where it is ready for everyday use in the worlds of business and government. But for now, we can continue to enjoy watching Watson show off his formidable trivia skills.