Originally Posted by Jarazon
If you buzz in before the question is finished being asked on Jeopardy you are locked out from buzzing in for something like a second after it's done being read.
^^ what he said, I actually know two people who have been on jeopardy (well, one of them was teen jeopardy, but same rules). when the question is done being read, somebody off camera flips a switch, closing a circuit, which simultaneously allows buzzer signals to be sent in while also turning on a series of lights around the gameboard that aren't seen on tv. these lights are an indicator to the contestants that they can ring in, but if you hit the buzzer before the circuit is closed, your buzzer is disabled for (I think) one second.
the really good guys like ken jennings and brad rutter got good at not just reacting to the lights turning on, but anticipating how long after the question the circuit would close, and hence buzzing in faster than any human could realistically respond to the lights, just because they had a feel for when the circuit would close and they jumped the gun.
watson, on the other hand, just operates based on the circuit, and doesn't react to the lights at all. I think the PBS documentary
(which you should watch because it's cool) said that watson can buzz in after about 1/100th of a second of the circuit being closed, which is much faster than a human can react unless they just gamble and take a stab at buzzing before the lights come on. I think that's what happened in day 2, which is why the humans did a lot better - they realized that playing normally they could never get in ahead of watson, so they gambled more and managed to buzz in more.
tl;dr, watson had an advantage on the buzzer, and although it's undoubtedly an incredible accomplishment in moving toward computers that can interpret natural language, I guarantee ken and brad knew 98% of the clues, but couldn't buzz in time
edit: it was on ABC news that I heard the thing about watson getting in after 1/100th of a second, not on nova...Edited by tommy1993 - 2/18/11 at 2:16am