Watson: IBM's (and IT's) Biggest Breakthrough Since the PC

By Doug Mohney March 03, 2016

Can you escape IBM's latest innovation, Watson? Big Blue is hammering the cognitive technology into as many avenues as it can. It put together a memorable advertising campaign last seen when IBM was positioning itself as an Internet company (Apologies to Millennials and younger who don't remember that far back). By the end of the year, we'll probably be talking of "Watsonizing" business processes and the Unified Communications cultists will find some way to wedge Watson under their umbrella.

Ignore Carrie Fisher having a therapy session with killer robots for a moment, along with the rest of the celebrity endorsements. IBM is carefully not talking about artificial intelligence (AI) and the myth of the killer AI. Instead, Watson is designed to work with people (Cough) UC hint (Cough). Watson is a partner to pull meaning out of data, not a heartless monster that wants to take over the world.

Two years ago, IBM decided to bet big on Watson, setting up a billion dollar business unit around the technology. Today, IBM has more than 80,000 developers and hundreds of partners putting Watson into every vertical you can think of off the top of your head, and probably all the others you can't. It is the "Cognitive era" says IBM, with Watson helping insurers to manage risks, network security to spot cyberattacks, and helping veterans deal with PTSD, just to name a few applications.

This year is shaping up to be the Year of Watson. At CES in January, IBM's keynote underlined how Watson would work with the Internet of Things (IoT) while other sessions highlighted how Watson's APIs and SDKs could bring cognitive power to any size business via the cloud. Last month, IBM announced the "IBM Watson AI X PRIZE, a Cognitive Computing Competition." Teams will go head to head between now and 2020 at IBM's Watson conference, with three finalists presenting at TED 2020. The winner gets five million dollars for the most audacious and awe-inspiring achievement using cognitive computing. 

Tapping into the power of Watson is not difficult for programmers. IBM already has 26 or so APIs available through its developers cloud service and plans to double that by the end of the year. There's a free sandbox through the Bluemix cloud service that supports up to 100 users, with scaling options based on the number of users, memory usage, instances, and HTTP requests that flow out. Add on sample code via GitHub and application starter kits containing pre-built apps with code that can be modified or extended.

We haven't reached the point yet where you simply talk to Watson by giving it a list of requirements and it builds code for you to solve problems -- that may be the "Killer app" out of the AI X XPRIZE (But we're back to the whole "Killer" and "AI" cliché, to the killer AI crowd...), a couple of years down the road.

Regardless, you're going to be hearing more about Watson over the next year. You'll find it integrated into call center services, network security, health care, the Internet of Things and dozens of other fields that are going to touch your business and personal life. The question you need to be asking is: What can Watson do for you?




Edited by Rory J. Thompson

Contributing Editor

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