When fans of Jeopardy!, America's favourite TV trivia game show, tune in this Valentine's Day they might wonder if they have mistakenly entered the Twilight Zone. At the center podium, where the smiling face of an expectant contestant would normally be, they will see a refrigerator-sized black box, silent and unassuming save for the luminous avatar at its core - a brain-like armillary sphere orbited by a score of glowing satellites. On February 14th, for the first time since Jeopardy!'s 1964 debut, two human contestants will compete against a machine. This is no hoax, incredulous readers. This... is... Watson!, IBM's latest breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that in a few days will make history. If Deep Blue, the computer that beat Garry Kasparov at chess, was AI's sputnik, Watson is about to become its moon landing.
In the BBC Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, Alex Bellos, author of the outstanding Alex’s Adventures in Numberland, was discussing randomness and made the following claim. 'I've interviewed lots of mathematicians and none of them say, "yeah I love gambling." They just don’t do it. I mean, what's the point?' I don’t know if I count as a mathematician, but I've made more trips to Las Vegas than I can remember. Were Alex interviewing me, I guess he’d ask me, "why?"