Watson, the supercomputer, just defeated two Jeopardy superstars. I know that Watson’s predecessors beat champion humans at chess and checkers. What games are next? As far as I’m concerned Watson is a one-trick-pony. I challenge Watson at Blankety Blanks.
Back in the mid-70’s I was a contestant on a new television game show called Blankety Blanks, hosted by Bill Cullen. I was paired with Anita Gillette against Soupy Sales and a female contestant. Soupy and his partner won. I left with a small Samsonite suitcase. At its best, Watson would have done no better than I. Even Watson can’t control chance. The opportunity to answer a question was determined by the spin of a wheel. The wheel never spun my way. Soupy won for his partner. Anita, my partner, got called on but couldn’t deliver the goods for our squad. She apologized to me as I, never having spoken a word, left the set. I resolved never to go on a show where chance played such a large part in one’s success. Had I, or Watson for that matter, had the opportunity to play the game, we would have been trying to come up with punch lines to vaudeville style one liners. “Where would Superman live if he lived in South Africa?” Capetown. “Why did the chess player keep his wife in the refrigerator?” He didn’t want a stale mate. “What would you call the Czech national trampoline champion?” A bouncing check. I have to think, if the show were still running, if chance were left out of the game, if Watson and I were to go mano a machino, that I’d win. Maybe sometime in the future Watson will develop a fuller sense of irony, a sense of humor, a sense of play. But for now, in these matters, Watson is, dare I say, elementary. Alas, my tenure on Blankety Blanks was brief and Blankety Blanks’ tenure on the air wasn’t much longer, a mere ten weeks before they pulled the plug. I doubt there is much pressure out there to deliver a Bill vs. Watson showdown on primetime anytime soon.
Over the course of his career, Bill Cullen was the host of twenty-three different game shows. Blankety Blanks, I’m sure, was not a highlight in that career. How many of those shows would Watson do well on? I concede, I can see Watson as a real champ on The Price Is Right. And we know Watson is terrific at Jeopardy. In what ways would some of those other shows test Watson’s flexibility and imagination? To my mind, the real test won’t be when smarty-pants Watson learns to get all the answers right on all the shows. That’s going to take a lot of work on Watson’s part, with some help from his handlers. When Watson dreams up a new show, devises a new game that can even match Blankety Blanks’ ten-week run, when Watson creates something, then we can marvel. Until then, Watson remains a Big Blue idiot savant in my book. I’m ready to take him on. You listening Watson?