Last week, approximately 20,000 people gathered in Las Vegas for an IBM conference that used to be called Insight. This conference highlights IBM’s software and services offerings in the areas of analytics, business intelligence and business process optimization. I say it used to be called Insight because it was actually renamed this past year. About two years ago, IBM started betting big on the future of their business with their investments in Cognitive Computing and particularly the Watson platform. If it wasn’t evident before, they doubled down by renaming this very important event World of Watson, and focusing very heavily on this amazing platform and how it’s transforming our world.
We spent three days at the conference and in many ways it was a trip to the future and the past all in one. Watson is IBM’s Cognitive Computing platform but in many ways it is considered an Artificial Intelligence system. While this may not be strictly accurate, that’s often the simplest way to explain what these systems are and how they operate. The idea of a computer “thinking” is essentially what a typical person thinks of as Artificial Intelligence. This idea dates back to the ‘50s and smart computers, and has been portrayed in movies throughout the years from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the rise of SkyNet in the Terminator series. The future, as it turns out, is so much more!
During the course of her Keynote address, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty talked about Watson and the amazing innovations it is being used for. From the pharmaceutical company Teva who is using Watson for breakthrough treatments to find new ways to manage chronic diseases, to Pearson who is reinventing education with personalized learning built on the power of the Watson platform, to GE who is working to integrate Watson’s learning and understanding capabilities into their OnStar system, it is easy to understand why Rometty expects more than 1 billion people will interact with Watson-powered systems by the end of next year.
To understand the power of Watson, it’s important to remember again that these computers do not “think.” What they do is emulate human thinking after being given enough training. One of the guest speakers during the keynote was Dr. Satoru Miyano, a professor from the University of Tokyo. Dr. Miyano talked about how Watson learned to diagnose cancer. By digesting thousands of articles, journals, publications, studies, and papers, then validating its findings against past cases, Watson was able to become a smarter, better doctor than any human ever could be in the diagnosis of cancer because it can learn much faster than a human and find patterns in data that humans simply do not have the mental capacity to do.
This is what IBM believes is Augmented Intelligence, not Artificial Intelligence. Machines will continue to supplement, not replace humans. In reality, what we are talking about is not AI, but more likely IA – Intelligent Assistants, or Intelligent Assistance. Using the incredible power of a computer to make you smarter, faster, better and allow humans to continue to do jobs that they are much more suited for than a computer, which could never take their place.
To close her keynote, Rometty wanted to show the many faces of Watson and just how pervasive this technology will be in our lives going forward. To do so, she brought Alexander Grant up to the stage. Better known as Alex da Kid, Grant is a music producer who has produced huge hits for the likes of Rihanna, Imagine Dragons, Nicki Minaj and Eminem. Alex da Kid has a new hit single out called Not Easy, but there is something rather unique about this new hit song. To create it, he used the power of Watson to help trigger different ways to start the creative process. Watson analyzed millions of lines of text from social media and other sources. Additionally, it mined the lyrics of hundreds of hit songs for patterns and thematic trends. Watson helped create a song that reached hit status for Alex faster than anything else he has worked on previously.
Watson is just one platform, albeit an incredibly powerful one. Companies from Microsoft to Google to Amazon are working on systems to help augment our intelligence and improve our world going forward. IBM is certainly a leader, but more than anything, this week showed me the power of this technology and just how much this is going to change our lives and our world.