Clegg: Give Watson tenure

Quaker Meeting

If you’re anything like me, you fear the show Jeopardy. Its fans frighten me. Hang out with one of them sometime while the show’s on. Your conversation will constantly be interrupted by shouts of “What is the Lusitania?” or “Where is Canada?”

Understand that I hold nothing against these freaks. Quite the contrary. As for me, whenever I somehow know one of the answers, I yell it out with such gusto that I forget to put it in question form. Also, I usually spill one of my two drinks.

No, my fear comes from the logical conclusion that the average Jeopardy contestant could easily make himself my king if he wanted to. Think about it. I struggle daily with the most pedestrian intellectual tasks, like remembering to do the laundry, then remembering which clothes are mine after I do the laundry. Jeopardy contestants, with their ungodly knowledge of evolutionary biology and art history and pop culture, would completely eat me for lunch.

My fear has been ratcheted up in the last few days by the introduction of Watson, a supercomputer that seems to be better at Jeopardy than any human contestant so far. Perhaps you’ve heard of Watson. If so, I imagine you’re living in a bunker somewhere, storing up for what will surely be a horrific and bloody evil computer apocalypse.

But I think I’ve found a way to stem the tide of this seemingly inevitable computer uprising. Instead of putting supercomputers like Watson on competitive game shows (where their lust for dominating humans can only be kindled further), I suggest giving them tenure at our most prestigious universities.

This is a great idea. Let me explain.

Perhaps you’ve heard about Yale’s recent dismissal of its only remaining Palestinian professor, Hala Nassar, who taught modern Arabic culture and literature. This was an excellent move. Now look, I don’t wish to disrespect Ms. Nassar — I’ve never taken any of her classes, but I’m sure she’s a gifted scholar and a talented instructor. All I’m saying is, Watson is probably smarter than her. We’ve got the vacancy — let’s lock this wundercomputer down before some other Ivy scoops him up!

I know what some of you are probably thinking. “Sure,” you say, “Watson might be good at Jeopardy. But an unusual stockpile of random academic information is useless without the ability to package and convey that information to students in an effective, human way.”

You’ve got a lot to learn about tenure.

Think about it this way. Your average young professor hoping to get tenure has got a lot to think about. They’ve got to write, perform research and regularly flatter older and more wrinkled versions of themselves. And on top of this, they have to learn to connect with their students in a way that actually makes them feel excited to learn?

This is preposterous. No, what we need in our university’s departments is someone like Watson, a take-charge piece of machinery that can quickly summon the most information about a given topic. What we don’t need are a bunch of soft, wannabe academics who will only slow down the mechanism of academia by needlessly worrying about their undergraduates’ educations.

Come on Yale, we can do it. Let’s hire Watson. I admit that we let African history professor Michael Mahoney go a little early, but who could have known the supercomputer wouldn’t be ready yet? The important thing is that we’re right on time getting rid of Nassar, so I repeat: hire Watson now.

Even if he’s a bad professor, at least humans can get back to Jeopardy in peace.

River Clegg is a senior in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.