A Year Ago: Want to win £1m? Don't Ask Jeeves

First published: Mon, 24 Jan 2000 15:28:45 GMT

What if Ask Jeeves could help you out on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire'? Instant riches? Or instant infamy? Let's find out

C'mon, you've all thought about it.

What if you were a contestant on ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" You're stuck on a question. Would you choose "ask the audience," "50/50" or "phone a friend"? What if that "friend" was on the Internet? Ah ha! The Net -- key to game show riches.

In the interest of serving the public interest, ZDNet News US conducted a "Millionaire" experiment of its own. Using the questions contestants answered incorrectly during Thursday night's show, we decided to find out if "phoning a friend" with Internet access could have saved the day.

Naturally, the friend would have to have two phone lines (one to talk to Mr Regis (the Question master) and the other to surf the Net) or a high-speed cable or DSL connection. Since most people don't have a broadband Internet connection, we decided to be fair and use a connection of 33Kbps.

You've only got 30 seconds to read the question to your friend and have him or her do a quick search. Can it be done? Let's find out.

We decided to turn to AskJeeves.com, the natural language search engine that touts itself as your personal butler for the Internet. With Jeeves pulled up in our browser and our fingers itching to type in the question, we wait for our first call.

First up, for $8,000 (£5,000) : In 1980, the US boycotted the summer Olympics in what city? We ask Jeeves the question; he's thinking, thinking. No luck. It took Jeeves just over a minute to come up with the correct answer, Moscow, exceeding the 30-second time limit. Maybe if we'd had a faster connection. Regis 1, Jeeves 0.

Next question. This for just $100. In the nursery rhyme, what did Little Jack Horner pull from a pie? Jeeves is off and running. This time, success! We access the right answer (a plum) in 27 seconds flat. Regis and Jeeves are tied.

Now comes a science question. For $8,000, what colour does litmus paper turn when it comes into contact with a strong acid? This one's a little tricky because Jeeves pulls up a site that discusses using vegetables as a litmus test. A quick scan through the site turns up the right answer, red. Did Jeeves make it in under 30 seconds? Yes! Jeeves 2, Regis 1.

This is it. Four contestants were stumped during Thursday night's show. Would they have improved their odds by phoning a friend with Internet access? Here's the final question: Which blood component carries oxygen through the body? Can Jeeves come up with the correct answer (haemoglobin) in under 30 seconds?

The clock ticks past 15 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute goes by and we're still clicking around the Jeeves' results looking for the right answer. Looks like Regis has stumped the Net with this one. The round ends in a tie, 2-2.

Lest you think this fearless reporter has discovered a secret way to cheat on one of network television's most popular shows, think again. This experiment, while fun, will remain an experiment. A spokesperson for ABC confirmed accessing the Net during the "phone a friend" portion of the show is strictly prohibited. You have to come up with the answers yourself.


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