History could change for ever over the next three days as IBM launches its supercomputer "Watson" tonight on "Jeopardy" (check local listings).
Hopefully, in addition to all of the knowledge that Watson has been programmed with, someone was thoughtful enough to include the line: "Please don't create an army of Terminator robots to wipe out humanity." (Cause that's how it starts: First, the computers try to win on "Jeopardy," then they take over the world.)
Humanity's last hope will be former champions Ken Jennings, who set the record with 74 consecutive wins on the show, and Brad Rutter, the all-time winningest player who has never lost. No pressure guys -- it's not as if computers will take over the world if you lose.
Watson, named for IBM's founder Thomas Watson, was built specifically to compete on "Jeopardy." If you watched the "NOVA" special about it last week, IBM spent a considerable amount of time and effort creating Watson, who is the size of 10 refrigerators and has pretty much every scrap of knowledge there is.
But "Jeopardy" is more than just having a ton of knowledge. It's also interpreting the clever puns and such that the show's writers insert into the questions. Watson struggled early on during beta testing, often coming up with wildly wrong answers because it couldn't understand what was being asked.
But the programmers continued to work out the bugs, allowing Watson to learn as it went along and develop a better understanding of how the questions are structured. Watson continued to improve during the beta testing, squaring off against other former "Jeopardy" contestants and holding its own.
Now Watson is up against the ultimate test, playing against two of the best "Jeopardy" players ever, and doing it under a national spotlight. Watson must compete like every other player -- ringing in only after Alex Trebek has finished reading the clue. The time between Alex reading and the time a player has to process the question and then ring in first is brief indeed. And Watson has literally billions of pieces of information to cycle through.
Will Watson win out and give rise to the Terminators? Will he benevolent, and become the great-great grandfather of "Star Trek's" Data instead? Or will Jennings or Rutter win, allowing humanity to breathe easier a while longer?
All I can say is having Watson compete means there are three days where I won't have an opportunity to get on the show.
MONDAY'S BEST BETS: CBS debuts the new sitcom "Mad Love" at 8:30 p.m. behind a new "How I Met Your Mother." I didn't get an advance copy of this, so I can't tell you much about it, other than it stars Jason Biggs and Sarah Chalke as a pair of singles who meet up and seem perfect for each other. The always awesome Judy Greer plays Chalke's best friend, while the always-god-awful Tyler Labine plays the same part he always plays as Biggs' friend. Why do networks keep putting Labine on the air? It's a dilemma for me -- do I watch because of Judy Greer, or do I skip it because of Tyler Labine? I'll probably check out the pilot, at least. "Hawaii Five-0" is new at 10 p.m.
Fox, meanwhile, continues with "The Chicago Code" at 9 p.m., which is being called one of the best new shows of this season. I certainly think it has that potential, and I'm eager to see how it continues to unfold. It follows a new "House."
NBC has new episodes of "Chuck," "The Cape" and "Harry's Law," while ABC has a new "Castle" at 10 p.m., following "The Bachelor." The CW has new episodes of "90210" and "Gossip Girl."
On cable, "Being Human" (SyFy, 9 p.m.) is brand-new. As I was watching commercials for the return of the UK version this weekend on BBC America, I realized what was missing from the US version (besides originality): humor. The British version mixes humor with the dark moments the characters face, while the US version is simply morose.