An Analyst’s Takeaway: IBM Impresses at World of Watson 2016
by Jim Sinur
World of Watson was literally and figuratively a “WOW” for this analyst and probably for many others as well. There were several sub-themes that were on display like “Out Think Possibilities” and “Watson in the World.” Instead of AI (Artificial Intelligence), IBM was hitting on IA (Intelligent Assistance), putting the spotlight on people with software and machine assists. There were a great number of sessions for the 18,000+ attendees. I will just highlight the ones I thought were excellent.
Ginni Rometty, the Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM took the stage late in the conference and highlighted the vision that IBM has for Watson for the future. While it is clear that we are just scratching the surface with Watson, there was plenty to get excited about. While deep down IBM believes that AI will assist people, machines, and software, the emphasis was on the extension of human intelligence with Watson. There is a clear dispersing of the seed of Watson in the areas of human interactions and data understanding as the early steps of changing the world with AI.
To prove that IBM was partnering and making exciting progress, Ginni brought several folks to the stage with proof points and partnerships. IBM is now partnering with GM by extending OnStar, so Mary Barra, the Chairman and CEO of GM, came to stage and painted a vision of cars becoming digital assistants to the driver and occupants of GM brand vehicles.
Then IBM demonstrated its commitment to education showing its Teacher Assistant that helps teachers with lesson plans. John B. King Jr, the US Secretary of Education, was brought to the stage to talk about IBM’s long-standing commitment to pioneering with practical ways of linking business needs with custom education programs in the New York area.
Next, Ginni turned to healthcare and talked about the treatment of chronic diseases. To that end, Yitzhak Peterburg, the Chairman of the Board of Teva Pharmaceuticals, gave a vision of combining smart medicines (some with chips inside) that could vary dosages based on conditions and emit smart data in context to online and remote physicians. Illustrations were depicted for asthma and diabetes leveraging the DNA baselines of individuals and predictions to avoid more serious down stream consequences for these conditions.
Other Announcements That Caught My Attention*
- The new Watson-enabled Data Platform leverages machine learning and had some pretty slick visualizations leveraging virtual reality.
- Watson Workspace showed an integration of several collaboration and communication capabilities including Cisco portfolio and Slack.
- Watson is also being leveraged to search on the content inside of video, which was previously considered to be dark data.
* There are more announcements to be found on the IBM press page.
Presentations of Interest
While I attended many key sessions, two stood out to me as helpful in understanding Watson and how it learns. Training Watson is the key to success. While it learns slow at first, Watson rapidly outpaces many of us once it becomes familiar with a subject or knowledge area. Listening and learning from those who have leveraged Watson, it was clear that the training is ongoing, but becomes significantly faster over a long time period.
Joichi Ito presented some key findings from MIT on how people and machines learn. Each add their own lenses to situations that must be taken into account when trying to replace understanding, judgment, decisions, and actions bots for both software and machines. He went on to show where jobs were likely to be displaced with the advent of AI.
Rob High had a fantastic session on “How Watson Really Works,” leveraging a highly entertaining MythBusters presentation style. One of the myths debunked was that Watson needed super-sized computers that could only be found at large companies. Another was that only super-PhD types can build applications with Watson—with the availability of usable APIs with focused capabilities such as sentiment and emotion, application building becomes more democratized. Rob also squashed the myth that Watson had intentions of taking over the world.
World of Watson was exciting and challenging. It’s clear that IBM is spreading the use of Watson into many areas by all means possible. The Cognitive Concourse was amazingly large with four big themes of redefining development, transforming industries, monetizing data, and re-imagining professions. The number of vendors that had booths were pretty impressive as well. AI is here to stay this time and IBM will play a big role going forward.