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Ken  Jennings

Ken Jennings

All-Time Jeopardy! Champion

Biography

Ken Jennings was born in 1974 just outside Seattle, Washington, but grew up overseas. His family spent 15 years in Korea and Singapore, where his father worked as an attorney. His only lifeline to American pop culture during those years was TV on the Armed Forces Network, where he watched Jeopardy! religiously after school every afternoon. Read More >

He moved back to the States to attend the University of Washington for a year, and after putting school on hold for a two-year Mormon mission in Madrid, Spain, transferred to Brigham Young University where he double majored in English and computer science.

While at BYU, Jennings captained the university’s academic competition team, which consistently finished in the top ten at national quiz bowl tournaments. Since graduating, he has worked on writing and editing questions for National Academic Quiz Tournaments, a company that organizes quiz tournaments attended by hundreds of colleges and thousands of high schools nationwide. Jennings also began to see dozens of friends and acquaintances from the world of quiz bowl appear on game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, where many were able to pay off their student loans and buy flashy sports cars. With this in mind, Jennings began to revive his childhood dream of appearing on Jeopardy!

While working as a software engineer for a Salt Lake City healthcare staffing company in 2004, Jennings got the phone call telling him that his contestant audition had been successful and he would appear on a June game of Jeopardy! He spent a month making flash cards and cramming on familiar Jeopardy! subjects like US presidents, world capitals, and “potent potables.”

Much to his surprise, his Jeopardy! appearance extended beyond a single game in June: Jennings took advantage of a recent rule change allowing Jeopardy! champions to appear on the show indefinitely, and spent the next six months hogging America’s TV screens. Before losing on the November 30th show because he didn’t know enough about H&R Block, Jennings won 74 games and $2.52 million, both American game show records.

The streak made Jennings a 2004 TV folk hero, and he appeared as a guest on shows including The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, Good Morning America, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Sesame Street. Barbara Walters named him one of “The Ten Most Fascinating People of the Year.” The Christian Science Monitor called him “the king of Trivia Nation” and Slate magazine dubbed him “the Michael Jordan of trivia, the Seabiscuit of geekdom.” ESPN: The Magazine called him “smug (and) punchable,” with “the personality of a hall monitor,” thus continuing America’s long national struggle between jocks and nerds.

Following his Jeopardy! streak, Jennings’s product endorsements have included FedEx, Microsoft Encarta, Allstate, the ever-present Cingular ad, and even his one-time nemesis H&R Block. He speaks about the importance of learning at college campuses and corporate events, and has co-invented two trivia games: the Can You Beat Ken? board game from University Games and Quizzology, a CD trivia game from Major Games. He has released the book Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, about his bizarre Jeopardy! adventures and about the phenomenon of trivia in American culture, as well as Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, a book about the allure of geography. His latest book is Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.

On February 14, 2011, Jennings challenged “Watson”—an IBM computer designed to beat humans at Jeopardy!—along with fellow grand champion Brad Rutter. Every Friday, Jennings writes a quiz based on the previous week’s events for Slate magazine. Also, his “Kennections” trivia puzzle is featured most weekends in Parade, the popular Sunday newspaper magazine, with additional puzzles appearing every week on Parade.com. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

TEDTalk: Six Month Jeopardy Champion

Defending Trivia

Speech Topics

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

In April 2013, in the wake of Russia's annexation of the Crimea, a Washington Post poll found that only 1 in 6 Americans could find the Ukraine on a map, and the average guess was wrong by more than 1,800 miles. America's oft-reported struggle with geography is really a symptom of a wider problem: "ingraphicacy," a deep discomfort with spatial tasks and diagrams of all kinds. Maps have been behind some of the greatest achievements in human history, from Columbus' voyage to the birth of epidemiology to the Apollo moon landing. They are beautiful, elegant solutions to an age-old problem: how do we visualize the parts of our world we can't see right now? Is it too late for maps? In this keynote presentation, author Ken Jennings takes us inside the past, present and future of maps, illuminating what they can teach us about our world and ourselves.

Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids

"Don't cross your eyes or they'll stay like that!"
"Don't touch your Halloween candy until we get it checked out!"
"Never run with scissors." Read More >

Is any of it true? If so, how true? In this presentation based on his latest book Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, speaker Ken Jennings wants to find out if mother and father always know best. Yes, all those years you were told not to sit too close to the television (you'll hurt your eyes!) or swallow your gum (it stays in your stomach for seven years!) or crack your knuckles (arthritis!) are called into question by America's leading trivia guru.

Armed with medical case histories, scientific findings, and even the occasional experiment on himself (or his kids), Jennings exposes countless examples of parental wisdom run amok. Whether you're a parent who wants to know what you can stop worrying about or a kid (of any age) looking to say "I told you so," this is the anti-helicopter parenting guide you've been waiting for. Read Less ^

The Human Brain in Jeopardy: Computers That “Think”

In 2011, when IBM developed a supercomputer that could defeat top human players at the quiz show Jeopardy!, computer programmer and quiz show champ Ken Jennings became the first person ever to lose his job to one of these new “thinking” machines. But he won’t be the last. Jennings uses his experiences battling IBM’s “Watson” as a way to explore the changes in tomorrow’s business climate that Watson will introduce: computers that can diagnose disease, provide customer support, perform business analytics... and dominate TV quiz shows, of course.

Elementary, My Dear Watson: Playing Jeopardy Against the World’s Smartest Machine

Speaker Ken Jennings, a former computer programmer, best-selling author, and 74-game Jeopardy! champion, was hauled out of quiz show retirement in 2011 to represent the human race against “Watson,” a super-intelligent supercomputer designed by IBM for one purpose alone: to beat the world’s best players at Jeopardy! Jennings’ behind-the-scenes look at that epic match poses important questions for anyone interested in—or, thanks to Hollywood, terrified by—the idea of machines that can reason and learn. Why is “Watson” such a technological milestone? Does it really “think” in the same way that a human does? What does its remarkable ability tell us about the future of artificial intelligence, and of human intelligence?

Who is… Ken Jennings?

Nothing is Trivial

Can You Put A Price On Knowledge?

The Rewards Of Curiosity

Words of Wisdom from the Quiz Master