Can IBM’s Watson Do it All?

Posted January 5th 2017


via Fast Company

From winning Jeopardy in 2011 to helping write a sad song last year, IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform is all over popular culture. Press releases fly out about Watson producing a movie trailer, powering a Macy’s shopping app, even controlling lights on an internet-connected dress—along with more serious applications like working on cancer treatments. It seems, from IBM’s hype, that Watson can do everything.

But Bernie Meyerson, IBM’s chief innovation officer, wants to dial back the hype in some ways, calling Watson “just the first step on a very, very long road.” Watson can be helpful in a lot of industries, such as medicine, which are awash in data, but it can’t replace people, he says. And Meyerson is wary of the baggage that the term “artificial intelligence” brings with it—notions that we’re anywhere near computers that can think like humans.

Despite this, IBM really does try to do anything and everything with its AI. “Watson is an agglomeration of about 30 products, aimed at dozens of industries that range from small to gigantic and require anything from little technical knowledge to advanced data science skills,” writes Fast Company’s Sean Captain. Often criticized as publicity gimmicks, IBM sees these trials, like the famous Jeopardy experiment, as a way to push its technology and solve problems. These challenges are adding up, leading Watson’s AI down unexpected paths that could promise both industrial and societal breakthroughs.