When many people think about IBM Watson, they remember the computer that won Jeopardy in 2011. It was cool, but of dubious value in the Real World. Or so they thought.
Think again. Watson has gone from a game show novelty to a tool in use in many industries, from medicine to cooking. At last week’s World of Watson conference in Las Vegas, over 17,000 attendees learned how far the technology of cognitive computing has come.
In fact, IBM’s chairman, president, and CEO Ginni Rometty pointed out that the current market for cognitive technologies has grown 16X in the past four years, to US$32 billion, and is expected to hit US$2 trillion by 2025. And IDC predicts that in two years, half of developers around the world will be embedding cognition in their apps.
However, IBM has no visions of building Skynet. There will be no ‘man vs machine’ scenario with Watson.
“We believe that when it comes to AI, the goal matters,” Rometty said. “Our goal is augmenting intelligence. Man and machine is about extending expertise.”
But it’s also about protecting customer data. “It’s your data, your IP, your competitive advantage,” she said. “The insights belong to you. Watson is where your data goes to learn, but when school is out, it goes back home.”
The future is man and machine, not man versus machine.
And Watson is taking in a lot of data, and doing a lot of learning. There’s Watson for Commerce, and Watson Education, Watson Financial Services and Watson Health, Watson IoT, Watson marketing, Watson Supply Chain, Watson Talent and Watson Work. Oh, yes, and Chef Watson — which has been fed flavour profiles of ingredients and is able to suggest unexpected combinations that work well together. Each version of Watson has been trained to help people in its industry to do their jobs faster and better – and that, says Rometty, illustrates the difference between programming a system and training a system. A system that can be trained is worth more over time, as its knowledge increases.
One company that’s taking advantage of the learning is General Motors. In partnership with IBM, it is releasing OnStar Go, a cognitive platform in 2017 4G/LTE connected GM vehicles that uses the power of Watson to learn about its users and assist them with everything from a low fuel alert (complete with directions to the nearest gas station), to where the nearest coffee shop is, remotely ordering the brew, and paying online. It will learn listening preferences, and deliver reminders, basically acting as an in-car personal assistant. Launch partners include Exxon, Glimpse, iHeart Radio, Mastercard, and others.
Getting kids interested in STEM subjects is an ongoing challenge, and Teacher Advisor with Watson, a free tool, will help elementary school teachers match materials with student needs. In its first phase, it’s being used by 200 teachers, assisting them in creating math lessons that engage students and help them learn. The plan is to roll it out to all U.S. elementary schools by year end. As time goes on, Watson will learn from teacher feedback and improve its recommendations. There is, Rometty said, an opportunity to also build in professional development resources.
On a more frivolous note, IBM partnered with award-winning New York chocolatier Nunu Chocolates to have Chef Watson develop flavours for truffles. World of Watson attendees were able to taste the results, including a chocolate truffle filled with a sweet combination of caramel, lemon and Earl Grey tea, another combining strawberry and cranberry, and a third with brown ale, espresso, yoghurt and lime zest. Yes, they were tasty.
Handout / IBMHarriet Green chats on stage with Olli, a 3D printed 12 seat autonomous shuttle bus
During her keynote, Harriet Green general manager of Watson IoT, cognitive engagement and education, introduced Olli, a 3D printed 12 seat autonomous shuttle bus built by Florida-based Local Motors and powered by Watson. Olli can interact conversationally with riders on the same topics they would discuss with a bus driver, said its developer. For example, Green asked Olli for a restaurant recommendation, specified dining and pickup times, and Olli (with Watson’s help) responded with a restaurant suggestion, advised a revised pickup time based on its knowledge of traffic volume, and suggested that Green bring a sweater because the evening would be chilly.
But, said Rometty, “Our moonshot is healthcare.” And Jerusalem, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical , the world’s number one producer of generic drugs, is betting on Watson. It is partnering with IBM to use Watson to help asthma patients prevent attacks by gathering patient information along with environmental data and other information to try to predict the likelihood of asthma triggers being present. It can then provide alerts to the asthma sufferers via an app and offer recommendations.
The University of Tokyo’s Human Genome Center is using Watson to assist in diagnosing various cancers. Professor Satoru Miyano said that it is proving itself by ingesting the vast number of papers and studies on the subject, something a human just hasn’t the time to do, and supporting clinicians in their work by surfacing relevant information about a patient’s condition and suggesting a diagnosis, which the physician can pursue. It has already saved lives by correctly identifying obscure conditions.
Watson also has a light side. Musician Alex da Kid used Watson to inspire the composition of three songs, the first of which became the number one song on Spotify the day it was released. “It changes the paradigm,” he said. “It’s a new way of working.”
And IBM is bullish on that new way of working. “Next year, every organization in this room will be working with or experiencing the benefits of Watson,” predicted David Kenny, general manager, IBM Watson. “The future is man and machine, not man versus machine.”