The Birthplace of Watson

February 13, 2011
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I took this pic of the Thomas J. Watson Research Center as I drove away following the match there between Watson and its human rivals. My mind was a little fluttery that night. I missed the turn onto the Tappan Zee Bridge and had to drive all the way into Manhattan and cross the George Washington. (Quick, Watson: Was I crossing a bridge or a president?)

I took this pic of the Thomas J. Watson Research Center as I drove away following the match there between Watson and its human rivals. My mind was a little fluttery that night. I missed the turn onto the Tappan Zee Bridge and had to drive all the way into Manhattan and cross the George Washington. (Quick, Watson: Was I crossing a bridge or a president?)

Wired has an excellent set of photos of the building, inside and out.

Here’s how I describe it in Final Jeopardy.

The Jeopardy machine’s birthplace – if a computer can stake such a claim – is the sprawling headquarters of the global research division named after its flesh-and-blood ancestor, IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson. In 1957, when IBM presided over the rest of the infant computer industry, the company cleared woods on a hill in Yorktown Heights, New York, about forty miles north of midtown Manhattan, and hired the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen to design a lab. If computing was the future, as seemed inevitable, it was on this hill that a good part of it would be dreamed up, modeled mathematically, and prototyped. Saarinen was a natural choice to express this sparkling future in glass and rock. A year earlier, he had designed the winged TWA Terminal for the new Idlewild Airport (later called JFK). Before that, he’d drawn up the majestic Gateway Arch that would loom over St. Louis. In Yorktown, it was as if he had laid the Gateway Arch on its side. The building, with three stories of glass walls, curved along the top of the hill. For visitors strolling the wide corridors decades later, the combination of the structure’s rough stone and the broad vistas of rolling hills still delivered just the right message of wealth, vision and permanence.