By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
January 16, 2011: Groucho Marx starred on stage, screen and TV during a career that spanned some 70 years. Now he is starring in a spot for IBM that is part of the company's on-going "I'm An IBM'er" campaign.
The spot, "Natural Language," is a companion piece to "Man Vs. Machine On Jeopardy." Both spots focus on Watson, a computer system that is scheduled to compete on the TV show, Jeopardy, Feb. 14-15-16, in a grand challenge against all-time top winners Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter and hosted by Alex Trabek. The spot with Groucho and the "Man Vs. Machine" commercial both explain how the Watson supercomputer was specifically designed and programmed to understand the puns and word plays that are central to Jeopardy but usually misinterpreted by computers.
In "Natural Language," Groucho is seen as one of his classic characters, Captain Spalding, delivering one of his classic lines from the Marx Brothers' movie, Animal Crackers. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know." Later, we see a shot of the Jeopardy game board, which under the category "Animal Talk" asks, "Groucho quipped, 'One morning I shot' this 'in my pajamas." The response, in classic Jeopardy style, must come in the form of a question: "What is an elephant?"
A voiceover in the spot offers, "Real language is filled with nuance, slang and metaphor. It's more than half the world's data." As an example, we then see a flash card which on one side has a picture of a baseball bat and on the other side a picture of a flying bat. The spot continues, "But computers couldn't understand it. Watson is a computer that understands meaning in our language and pinpoints the right answer, instantly. It uses deep analytics to answer questions computers never could before. Even the ones on Jeopardy."
The Jeopardy board is then shown offering six topics of examples puns, nuances and word plays that Watson could face when it challenges the two human contestants in February: Vice Precedents, Off The Record, Animal Talk, Characters Who Became Words, Slings & Arrows, Of Outrageous Fortune.
The voiceover then offers the campaign's tag line: "That's what I'm working on. I'm an IBM'er. Let's build a smarter planet." The Groucho spot airs during NFL games and other network and cable programming. Lead agency is Ogilvy & Mather, New York. (See Groucho spot here.)
The grand prize for the Watson Jeopardy competition will be $1 million, with second place earning $300,000 and third place earning $200,000. IBM said it would donate 100% of its winnings to charity while Rutter and Jennings will each donate half of their winnings to charity.
The goal of all of this is to create a computer system whose technology can work with doctors, scientists, educators and others to more accurately and quickly determine and define situations in which other systems have come up short due to misinterpreting or simply not understanding language. According to John E. Kelly III, svp and director of IBM research, in USA Today, "In the field of artificial intelligence, people spend lifetimes trying to advance that science inche. What we have done is advance artificial intelligence by miles."
Still, that might not help Watson take on the late Groucho (who died in 1977) should he ever appear as a virtual character on Jepordy, where he might rattle off some his famous lines and cause Watson to short-circuit in an attempt to keep pace:
• "Ice water? Get some onions. That'll make your eyes water!"
• "If you want to see a comic strip, you should see me in the shower."
• "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."
• "Either he's dead or my watch has stopped.”
• “I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.”
• “I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat animals who are."
• "Before I speak, I have something important to say."
• "I worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty."
• "If I held you any closer I would be on the other side of you."
• "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor