In 2011, IBM’s artificial intelligence platform Watson decimated former champions on the TV game show “Jeopardy,” in the process winning a $1 million prize. Since then, everyone has been wondering what Watson will do next.
What is Watson?
The cognitive computing platform, which can read and understand natural language queries and can sort through gigantic sets of data to arrive at relevant answers, has found uses in numerous settings.
Named after Charles J. Watson, one of IBM’s founders, Watson started out as a project involving 25 computer science researchers, starting in 2007. Their goal was to create a machine that could comprehend both the meaning and context of human language. Today Watson uses the equivalent of 90 servers, capable of holding roughly 1 million books’ worth of data, according to IBM.
Where is Watson?
Healthcare: Watson has been used to help doctors choose the right treatments for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, and in cancer research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas. The latter shelved its use of Watson after it delivered less than optimal results assisting in cancer research in 2013, at the cost of $62 million.
Nevertheless, researchers expressed amazement at Watson’s ability to process and synthesize reams of data from patient histories.
The Mayo Clinic is also using Watson to more accurately match patients to clinical trials.
Call Centers: IBM has rolled out an Ask Watson feature, in testing now, that reportedly lets customers ask open-ended questions, such as how much data they have left on their phone bills, how to diversify a retirement plan or flights between different cities for which mileage points can be used.
U.S. software company Autodesk currently uses Watson for customer support, reportedly compressing the time it took process requests to minutes, from days. Australian bank ANZ has used Watson in call centers since 2013, in its private bank.
Watson even has its own cookbook, though don’t expect help cleaning up the dishes afterward.
Stock-picking: At least one investment company, called EquBot, uses Watson to pick stocks that it thinks are most likely to increase in value over the next 12 months, based on economic conditions, trends and world events, according to the fund managers.
EquBot says it mines millions of pieces of data from regulatory filings, quarterly results, news articles, even social media pots.
Watson’s got competition
IBM is far from alone in its aspirations to develop thinking, problem-solving computers. Google has an entire division devoted to artificial intelligence, called Google AI. Facebook has a branch called Facebook Reality Lab, focused on virtual reality and other products. Similarly, Microsoft has an AI research division. Customer relationship management software company Salesforce even has its own version of Watson, which it calls Einstein.
Watson may be just the beginning of a revolution in computing that connects humans and machines.