'Watson Ecosystem' is bigger than Artificial Intelligence: IBM CEO

Chief executive Ginni Rometty pitches Watson Ecosystem to India as a "can't do without" cognitive technology

By Harichandan Arakali Forbes India Staff
Published: Feb 3, 2016
Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, chief executive of International Business Machines Corp
Image: Mike Blake / Reuters
Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, chief executive of International Business Machines Corp

While big data analytics has done the rounds of businesses, much of its potential hasn’t been realised as the bulk of the data that is out there is “invisible,” which makes a technology that mimics the human brain in many ways invaluable, Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, chief executive of International Business Machines Corp. said on Tuesday.

All this data, “like sight, sound, movies, (data from) sensors can be stored in a computer, but wasn’t available ... it is now,” Rometty told an audience of company employees, tech entrepreneurs, analysts and other invited guests, at an event in Bangalore to promote Watson in India.

Watson was open for business in India, IBM said in a press release, and named two businesses, which were already using the “Watson Ecosystem.”

“This is bigger than AI,” Rometty said in her speech. “Cognitive systems can understand, reason, and learn ... these systems can work almost like the human brain.”

From mainframes to software services for the world’s largest businesses to cloud computing to the cognitive era, IBM is once again presenting itself as the purveyor of the technologies that businesses and even countries can ill afford to ignore.

It is now betting its future on Watson, which IBM famously debuted in 2011, as a computer that could hold its own in a game of Jeopardy, and which it has built into a complex combination of multiple technologies across multiple fields - be it supporting advances in cancer research or advancing computational linguistics, mastering difficult languages such as Japanese.

With an eye towards commercialising Watson, IBM has also opened it up to businesses, developers,and startups - creating a “platform as a service” model, which it has branded Bluemix. It has also acquired businesses in a wide range of fields that can help Watson learn more and learn faster.

For instance, IBM recently acquired The Weather Company, Rometty said, an Internet-of-things company, which has millions of users and which on an average day saw 30 billion transactions, but during the recent New York Blizzard, got a 100 billion hits.

IBM formed a unit in 2014 to commercialise Watson, and today it is present in 17 industries in 36 countries, Stephen Gold, a vice president at the company told reporters earlier. From three business partners two years ago, the unit was working with 500 today, Gold said.

“When started, we had one service, based on question-and-answer,” which was the one that played Jeopardy, and won against the best in the world, but “today we have 32,” he said. The technologies underlying those services have also multiplied ten-fold to about 50 today, Rometty said in her speech.

And among the applications Watson is finding is being able to “predict the onset of a hypoglycemic event (low blood sugar) three hours before it occurs” in a diabetic - a life-saving application. Such applications are possible because cognitive systems can connect the dots just as humans do, be it for businesses or hospitals or governments, she said.

Of all the technologies of modern times, analytics, mobility or cloud computing, the “most disruptive” will be cognitive systems, but this technology will also be the “most transformative,” she said. “Without cognitive, there is no hope to keep up with the volume of data that is being produced in the world. No hope.” Embracing it would be “the best chance to solve a lot of humanity’s problems.”

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