After watching the constant frustration on Ken Jennings' face, I was confident that all the players knew most of the answers. It was just a matter of who buzzed in first, with Watson doing so most of the time.
Check out this description of the Jeopardy! buzzer, from Jennings' Web site:
If you watch Jeopardy! casually, it's easy to assume that the player doing most of the answering is the one who knew the most answers, but that's not necessarily true. All three contestants, after all, passed the same very hard test to be there. Most of the contestants can answer most of the questions. But Jeopardy! victory goes not to the biggest brain—it goes to the smoothest thumb. Timing on the tricky Jeopardy! buzzer is often what separates the winner from the, well, non-winners, and the Jeopardy! buzzer is a cruel mistress.Watson won primarily because it had first dibs on every question it pleased. I'm much less impressed by this victory because it involved a machine "hitting a button" much more precisely than any human ever could.
Here's how it works: the buzzers don't get activated until Alex is finished reading each question. If you buzz in too early, the system actually locks you out for a fifth of a second or so. But if you're too late, the player next to you is going to get in first. Somewhere between too early and too late is a very narrow sweet spot, like swinging a tennis racket or a baseball bat. No, that's not right. The Jeopardy! buzzer, she is like a woman. No, that's not it either. All I know is, the more I thought about the timing, the less I could nail it. When I could somehow just Zen out and not think about what I was doing, I would do okay.
Yes, it's still impressive that the machine can perform so well on Jeopardy!-style questions, but the lopsided final score shouldn't imply that Watson is vastly superior to its human counterparts.