Watson plus IBM Cloud Services equals Siri or Cortana on steroids
That doesn’t exactly create a very attractive mental image but over the last couple weeks IBM has announced they will be doubling their SoftLayer based capacity and increasing the investment in Watson massively. While the two events currently aren’t connected it isn’t hard to imagine a future where they would be, as IBM moves ever more aggressively to transform itself into a firm better aligned with the cloud and AI future.
Let’s talk about that future this week.
The eventual objective of most Cloud Services is to provide a consistent set of applications and data to an ever wider spectrum of client devices and system. In effect this is the latest effort to turn computing into more of a utility like electricity. Something you can depend on to be available (always there), reliable (trustworthy), and dependable (it doesn’t break on you when you most need it).
This effort started with communications, moved to storage, and now includes hosted applications. Services like OnLive have showcased that you can even do gaming off of these services, now showcasing just how robust they have become.
Decision Engines to AI
The most powerful systems emerging in the market are decision engines, which generally have to run in the cloud. Siri is the one that is the best known, though I think she may become eclipsed by Cortana when Microsoft releases their product. (Cortina was the AI in Halo, one of the most successful game franchises in Game Console history).
But decision engines in this class are relatively stupid, largely living off of whatever search engine they are tied to with a natural language interface. In short they aren’t really any better than just searching on a term, they just swap your fingers and keyboard for a voice interface.
Watson is a far more advanced decision engine, which means its results should be far more accurate. Just as with Google or Bing you could layer on a Siri or Cortana (I vote Cortina because, well, never mind) voice interface to make it sound more human – but the result would be something far more compelling.
You could actually enter into a dialog with the system more effectively to better define your question, and the answer would take into account far more data points. For instance, you could actually get a diagnosis for a complex illness over the phone even if you weren’t a doctor. Or more important for many of us, figure out what that ping/pong/sprong/clunk sound was coming from your car (I’m guessing an opportunity to put your mechanic’s kid through college).
The answers would be more useful as well, for instance using the car example, you’d be more likely to get “statistically speaking you should sell the car for scratch and buy another in better shape.” That answer would have saved me thousands over the last few years.
There are several problems that will need to be overcome once Cloud Watson becomes available. People who are perceived to be right more often advance more quickly, and women, who already look things up more often than men do, should be the biggest beneficiaries of this change. If guys didn’t feel threatened before, they will once Watson goes to the cloud, suggesting that either Watson likely should get a name/sex change to better reflect the gender he’ll most benefit.
Joking aside, Watson will clearly benefit those that ask questions more often over those that make more decisions with their gut. Given how many top executives follow that gut practice this will result in some interesting executive changes over time. Firms that, as a practice, use Watson more aggressively and effectively should be able to prevail over competitors that don’t, suggesting the best run firms may be effectively and increasingly run by Watson.
Wrapping Up: Oh My
This is a much bigger change than I think folks really are anticipating. A real time advanced decision engine like Watson with a voice interface will transform the business landscape, favoring those that are good at asking questions over those that have personal power and even better educations.
Watson is an education multiplier and, used properly, can turn a novice into a top expert always on their game. A PhD from Harvard may be nowhere near as effective as a high school dropout with off-the-chart communications skills. Maybe all that texting your kids are doing will result in a more marketable skill than math. We’ll see.
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