IBM Interconnect kicked off with a talk by Chris Moody, the guy who runs Twitter, and he mentioned that IBM’s enterprise artificial intelligence platform could address one of Twitter’s biggest problems: trolls and griefers. Now, we normally just talk about trolls, but this is focused on going farther than just eliminating people that annoy others by forcing disputes to finding folks that remove the fun from Twitter and eliminating them as well. But I don’t think they are completely thinking this through. You see, there is one other even more important use of something like Watson, and that is as an early warning that you may be about to Tweet something that will cost you your job, your marriage or even your life.
It is that broader use of Watson that I think is the most compelling, preventing people from making avoidable stupid mistakes. I think Twitter could become the showcase for what Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO, was talking about when she said that IBM wasn’t focused on replacing humans with AI, but augmenting them, and the best (and perhaps easiest) would be the Anti-Stupid service.
At the heart of the IBM concept is the realization that we are far away from a reliable human replacement technology. AIs are incredibly smart, but things like empathy and creativity have proven very difficult for machines. In addition, a strategy to replace people with machines creates another nearly impossible to solve problem: what do you do with the unemployed people and how do unemployed people afford the products you are building?
However, if you instead wed a person with an AI like Watson, you potentially end up with something better; the human is still earning and spending, and you at least head off what could be a huge chance of violent revolt and economic collapse.
In addition, companies that implement this AI augmentation solution should become far more successful than those that do not, but currently firms are focused on giving line workers AI capability. Top executives, including CEOs, aren’t on the short list of those to be enhanced by Watson even though they are massively leveraged and their mistakes can cost billions.
But Twitter, were it to focus on eliminating career ending Twitter mistakes, could go a long way towards convincing them that they too need to be augmented.
After Twitter’s talk, Indiegogo’s executive got up and chatted about how Watson is being used to make their entrepreneurs smarter. They, along with Arrow, are using Watson to make these emerging crowd funded companies both smarter and faster to market. This suggests that, as these companies come up, their executives could be used to using Watson and their companies will inherently be statistically less likely to make mistakes and thus grow to become large firms with AI an integral part of their management process, and therefore far more efficient. That efficiency would largely come from Watson helping them avoid mistakes rather than the more common and expensive learning experience of making mistakes.
But, if a critical mass of these firms hit the market at once, existing companies could be overwhelmed because, without Watson, firms tend to repeat mistakes rather than learn from them. Faced with a new class of firms that didn’t make many of these mistakes in the first place, they’ll be overwhelmed. But executives often believe they hold their positions due to the perception they are smarter than others who are competing for their job and seem to think a tool like Watson makes them weak. Convincing them otherwise has proven problematic.
Wrapping Up: Twitter
IBM’s Watson is becoming a critical tool improving the performance of employees working in a variety of industries. While startup executives are being trained to appreciate and use Watson to make their firms far more competitive, existing executives seem to be leaving themselves out of this critical improvement loop.
This is where Twitter could come in. If Watson were used to help everyone avoid posting things on Twitter that will create problems for their careers or families, then those that are executives should see the benefit of a tool like this for their business life as well. I can think of at least one highly placed politician that desperately needed this tool before taking office who uses Twitter heavily, and, even if this one person were enhanced, the benefits would likely be immeasurable.
That one lesson could go a long way toward assuring that the people that make the big decisions, the ones that make or break a company, also get the benefit of Watson and make far fewer mistakes and miss far fewer opportunities. That is potentially the real power of Watson, and Twitter could be the critical key. It strikes me that the CEOs of Twitter and Indiegogo could also benefit from being enhanced. We’ll see if they become examples of the power of Watson or examples of legacy executives that missed the point.
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President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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