IBM Watson has been quietly transforming the business world for three years now.
Watson is IBM’s supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence, machine learning and cognitive technology to “think like a human.”
Watson won $1 million on Jeopardy by besting the two most dominant Jeopardy champions of all time back in 2011. Now, it has 6,000 paying enterprise customers – up 2,000 in the last eight months.
Why the growth and what are they using it for?
Well, these users aren’t just paying for Watson to do their taxes — they’re taking full advantage of the Internet of Things in a real, tangible way.
What does that look like?
Here’s how some companies are using it:
The list goes on…
Watson has the ability to crunch massive amounts of data (an obvious advantage computers have over humans) and then pair that data with synthesis, analysis and recommendations.
For example: Doctors are generally very good at making diagnoses, but having a supercomputer plugged into your electronic medical record can help those diagnoses by giving statistical recommendations on how likely any combination of symptoms indicates a given ailment. The computer crunches every combination of those symptoms and spits out the percent chance of correct diagnoses based on historical precedent. And, with thousands of new medical research papers published every year, no doctor can stay abreast of all the newest information all the time — enter Watson. Computer-recommended diagnoses can’t replace a doctor, but it arms those doctors with more information and more confidence when they do make a recommendation.
IBM’s CEO Virginia Rometty stated her goal for Watson is to generate $10 billion in annual revenue within ten years. While that may look like a dream for now, IBM is throwing a ton of money and resources at Watson to try and make this happen.
Christoph Auer-Welsbach, IBM Watson Strategic Partnership Lead
In October, IBM said they’ll be investing $200 million to expand Watson’s IoT capabilities and add collaboration centers with their clients. IBM is also making a strong effort to push Watson to be super accessible in as many industries as possible, even including small companies and startups.
Every business interacts with its employees, clients and customers digitally in varying capacities. Employing Watson (or some other cognitive supercomputer) allows businesses to dig into that data and have it make sense, and draw meaningful conclusions about productivity, efficiency, buying habits, etc.
Big Data is meaningless without big analysis. And, if you don’t have a robust in-house data science team, employing a service like Watson allows you to play at the same level as those companies that do. And, even if you do have a data science team, Watson-esque services can supercharge your team’s capacity and capabilities.
Ultimately, one of humans’ best cognitive traits is the ability to recognize trends and act on that analysis. But, our ability to synthesize information is limited to the manner of data input — in plain english, it takes a long time for us to read. And, we think in mathematical abstractions, we don’t think in statistical ones. Humans have an unrivaled capacity for abstract thought, but when it comes to down-and-dirty number crunching, a supercomputer can throw more pure horsepower at it. And if you teach that computer some of the trend recognition skills a human has, it can harness that horsepower and make it imminently useful for businesses poised to use it.
Watson and its ilk have an opportunity to help so many businesses make better, more informed decisions. But, wise and disciplined application/integration of Watson’s services will separate those that merely use the service and those companies that use it to change the game.