The computer brained its human competition in Game 1 of the Man vs. Machine competition on "Jeopardy!"
On the 30-question game board, veteran "Jeopardy!" champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter managed only five correct responses between them during the Double Jeopardy round that aired Tuesday. They ended the first game of the two-game face-off with paltry earnings of $4,800 and $10,400 respectively.
Watson, their IBM supercomputer nemesis, emerged from the Final Jeopardy round with $35,734.
Tuesday's competition began with Jennings (who has the longest "Jeopardy!" winning streak at 74 games) making the first choice. But Watson jumped in with the correct response: What is leprosy?
He followed that with bang-on responses Franz Liszt, dengue fever, violin, Rachmaninoff and albinism, then landed on a Daily Double in the "Cambridge" category.
"I'll wager $6,435," Watson (named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson) said in his pleasant electronic voice.
"I won't ask," said host Alex Trebek, wondering with everybody else where that figure came from.
But Watson knew what he was doing. Sir Christopher Wren was the correct response, and Watson's total vaulted to $21,035 as the humans stood by helplessly.
Watson blew his next response. But so did both his opponents. He guessed Picasso. Jennings guessed Cubism. Rutter guessed Impressionism. (Correct question: What is modern art?)
Back to Watson, who soon hit the game's second Daily Double. But even when he was only 32 percent sure (you could see his precise level of certainty displayed on the screen), Watson correctly guessed Baghdad as the city from whose national museum the ancient Lion of Nimrud ivory relief went missing (along with "a lot of other stuff") in 2003. Watson added $1,246 to his stash.
He even correctly identified the Church Lady character from "Saturday Night Live."
One answer stumped everyone: "A Titian portrait of this Spanish king was stolen at gunpoint from an Argentine museum in 1987." (Correct response: Philip.) Jennings shook his head. Rutter wrenched his face. Watson, as usual, seemed unfazed.
Even when he bungled Final Jeopardy, Watson (with his 10 offstage racks of computer servers) remained poised.
The answer: "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle."
Both Jennings and Rutter knew the right response was Chicago.
Watson guessed doubtfully, "What is Toronto?????" It didn't matter. He had shrewdly wagered only $947.
The trio will return on Wednesday, when their second game is aired. The overall winner will collect $1 million.
The bouts were taped at the IBM research center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., last month.