Exciting news yesterday from the IBM Watson team: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and IBM have agreed to collaborate to develop a powerful tool built on IBM Watson to provide medical professionals with improved access to current and comprehensive cancer data and practices.
Cancer is prevalent in my family, so I'm more than a bit excited about this particular announcement. The press release continues:
The resulting decision support tool will help doctors everywhere create individualized cancer diagnostic and treatment recommendations for their patients based on current evidence. The initiative will combine the computational power of IBM Watson and its natural language processing ability with MSKCC�s clinical knowledge, existing molecular and genomic data and vast repository of cancer case histories, in order to create an outcome and evidence-based decision support system. The goal is to give oncologists located anywhere the ability to obtain detailed diagnostic and treatment options based on updated research that will help them decide how best to care for an individual patient.
Sloan-Kettering and IBM are already developing the first applications using Watson related to lung, breast and prostate cancers, and aim to begin piloting the solutions to some oncologists in late 2012, writes BusinessWeek. Wider distribution is planned for late 2013.
The Watson team also created a nifty infographic to share:
On-hand at New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel to make the announcement were IBM Software Senior Vice President and Group Executive Steve Mills, Senior Vice President, IBM Middleware Software Robert LeBlanc and Senior Vice President IBM Software Solutions Mike Rhodin. Joining this august trio was Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President, IBM Global Business Services. Portions of the event were broadcast via live video and you can watch the replay here.
Align, Anticipate, Act
IBM Smarter Analytics solutions draw upon capabilities from across the IBM Software portfolio, such as Big Data, Predictive Analytics and Decision Management. Broadly speaking, they enable organizations to accomplish three critical tasks:
Align information around information
Anticipate, predict and shape outcomes
Act with confidence at the point of impact
Organizations that do all three of these create a virtuous cycle of continuous transformation and learning: applied insights drive breakaway results, which in turn create new learnings, which are then transformed into a new insights, and so forth.
If you'll pardon the pun, it's a tremendously smart way to run an organization. Our world is increasingly interconnected, instrumented and intelligent; it's also a lot more competitive. With analytics, organizations can build their customer base, improve operational efficiency, prevent fraud, manage risk and automate tedious but required financial processes.
Happily, organizations in every industry are seeing the benefits. Consider that with Smarter Analytics solutions from IBM:
Insurance company Santam saved $2.4M through better fraud detection and cut claims handling to a mere 48 hours.
Electronics manufacturer Jabil enjoys greater insight into its financial performance and cut its close time in half.
Analytics-driven Organizations Outperform
The evidence is there: organizations that embrace analytics are outperforming their competition and the gap is widening between the leaders, learners and laggards. Analytics-driven organizations are extracting insights not only from enterprise data, but also from big data that's continuously flowing in from a variety of new sources. These insights help them make better, faster decisions and automate processes. And more organizations are indeed getting on-board: IDC estimates enterprises will invest more than $120 billion by 2015 to capture the business impact of analytics, across hardware, software and services.
New Signature Solutions
To help clients take the next - or the first - step in their analytics journey, Tuesday saw the rollout of three new IBM Signature Solutions:
IBM Smarter Analytics Signature Solution � Anti-fraud, Waste & Abuse: Advanced algorithms embedded directly into business processes to provide government agencies and insurers the ability to detect fraud in real time � before funds are paid out. The solution recommends the most effective remedy for each case, optimizing an organization�s finite resources. For example, the system might recommend that a simple letter requesting payment be sent to resolve one case, while recommending that a full investigation be opened in another.
IBM Smarter Analytics Signature Solution � Next Best Action: Delivering a comprehensive view of individual customers derived from traditional enterprise data and customer sentiment gleaned from social networks, logged customer service interactions and web click stream data. Real-time analytics predict customer behavior and preferences to inform decisions on the next best action on behalf of that customer.
IBM Smarter Analytics Signature Solution � CFO Performance Insight: For icreased insight, visibility and control over financial performance with predictive capabilities applied to key metrics and data on past performance. Predictive analytics, combined with what-if analysis and traditional business intelligence in an executive-style dashboard guide users with root-cause analyses. Organizations can uncover relationships among performance metrics, anticipate performance gaps and assess alternatives with scenario planning.
"These new capabilities target the agendas of global business leaders operating in a world of accelerating complexity, unpredictability and massively available information,� said van Kralingen, �By integrating analytics into business processes and converting new insights into action, IBM is helping organizations transform big data from a threat into an opportunity, one that will be their most valuable natural resource.� Insights from 20,000 engagements
These new solutions are based on insights from more than 20,000 IBM analytics engagements around the world. They can be delivered by IBM consultants, supported by industry-leading applications management services capabilities, and cloud offerings.
Big Data to play a Big Role
Naturally, these solutions depend on lots and lots of data. Luckly, organizations are seeing no shortage in that area. So abundant is data in all forms now that "Big Data is is the new natural resource," according to Steve Mills in a blog post on the Smarter Planet Blog. "In fact, information is becoming the petroleum of the 21st century. But we need a new generation of analytics technology and expertise to help us make the most of it [...] humans are creating fifteen petabytes of new information every day�about eight times the information housed in all the academic libraries in the United States. "
Mills continues: Clients can access these capabilities through IBM�s big data technology platform that includes Hadoop, stream computing, data warehouse, and information integration and governance capabilities, along with visualization and discovery, application development, systems management and industry accelerators. To date, the IBM big data platform has been adopted by more than 100 business partners, bringing a new class of analytics solutions to market and extending the reach of IBM analytics offerings for clients."
You can begin your own analytics-driven journey by joining the IBM Smarter Analytics conversations on Twitter (#smarteranalytics), Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
Two contrasting views of software came through my twitter stream today that got me thinking.
I do that sometimes.
The first was a blog post by Dr. Norman Lewis. The second was by Manoj Saxena. Dr. Lewis is a co-author of Big Potatoes: The London Manifesto for Innovation as well as Chief Innovation Officer and a Managing Partner of Open-Knowledge. Mr. Saxena holds two U.S. software patents for advanced discovery and non-intrusive personalization of Web services.
Clearly, these men know a thing or two about code.
In his post, "Facebook valuation: $100 billion for what?", Dr. Lewis takes the financial media to task for celebrating what he views as a colossal waste of time. Investor excitement about Facebook, he says, is not about innovation nor any social or economic benefit. Rather, he says, Faceook's financial success depends on continuing to enable a regressive worldview in which connections are ends not means and introspective narcissism are celebrated.
"[In its S1 filing] Facebook argues [...] that if it fails to retain existing users or add new users, or if its users decrease their level of engagement, then its revenues, financial results and business may be significantly harmed. In other words, what Facebook understands, and what it wants its prospective investors to understand as well, is that its future success relies upon more of the same: more people playing games, sharing photos and sending each other messages upon which Facebook can generate revenues through targeted advertising...The largest technology IPO in history, in other words, is not about a technology that can transform nature, provide new sources of energy, or new cures for illnesses or cancer, for example; it is about a platform that encourages ever more of the same unproductive, self-absorbed communications between users...Facebook is now a cultural institution, which is driven by, and nurtures, a culture of self-reflective, self-absorbed individuated entertainment and therapeutic communications. The sad truth is that the frenzy and excitement generated by Facebook�s pending IPO reflects little more than its cultural significance. And this is a million miles away from where investment ought to be focused...The Facebook IPO does show how unambitious contemporary society�s expectations are about technology. That Facebook could become the largest technology IPO in history is an alarming prospect."
"We anticipate that the technology will next be applied to other diseases and could eventually become a ubiquitous bedside and office-visit assistant for doctors and nurses�enabling them to deliver truly personalized care to everyone they serve....Watson�s potential to help transform the healthcare industry is especially meaningful to me. My mother, who was a doctor in our native India and now lives with my family in Austin, began showing symptoms of dementia two years ago. I�m witnessing close up the decline of a person who was the model of a vibrant, strong professional woman and parent. Now she�s wandering into a fog. It�s tragic. And it didn�t have to be this way. We need new tools to help physicians understand and prevent diseases, and Watson promises to be an important new tool in that battle. I don�t want others to experience what my mother is going through right now."
In other words, Watson is doing what Dr. Lewis believes technology should do.
I'm inclined to believe him, too. Yes, I'm on Facebook and enjoy trading pop-culture references with friends far and wide. But it's an amusement. One thing you learn when you work at IBM is that expectations of ourselves and of the products we build are very high,
It may be too early to know what Facebook's IPO really "means" in the grand scheme of things. Facebook users may effect real change through their thousands of connections. But for now I'm happy to work for a company that understands the importance of the role it plays in the world and the impact its products have on the way we live our lives.
9 AM: Get Bold! IBM VP and author Sandy Carter hosts a coffee talk and book signing at New York City's Birch Coffee. Listen, learn and discuss how you can create your own Social Business Agenda for greater competitive advantage. Birch Coffee is located at 5 E 27th St in the Gershwin Hotel, between 5th and Madison.
11 AM: IBM BlueIQ leader and Community Manager Josh Scribner offers his views on a panel discussion entitled �Social Business By Design.� Joining Josh will be Dave Gray of The Dachis Group and Ming Kwan of Nokia, IBM Business Partners both. The panel takes place in the Business & Innovation Content Hub at Bloomberg.
Follow along the IBM Social Business Insights Blog
First on the list was the risk of failure: Most scientists I approached favored their own individual projects and career tracks. And who could blame them? This was an effort that, at best, would mingle the contributions of many. At its worst it would fail miserably, undermining the credibility of all involved... I was willing to live with possible failure as a downside, but was the team?.
Then there was the solitary and ego-driven nature of scientific research: Scientists, by their nature, can be solitary creatures conditioned to work and publish independently to build their reputations. While collaboration drives just about all scientific research, the idea of �publishing or perishing� under one�s own name is alive and well.
As we now know, Ferrucci was able to entice enough researchers to his cause (the team grew from 12 to 25). And yes, to a member they were indeed brilliant and accomplished. But Watson was a project unlike any other. Ferrucci knew he'd need to change the way team members worked with each other.
This is where collaboration comes in. Ferrucci writes:
From the first, it was clear that we would have to change the culture of how scientists work. Watson was destined to be a hybrid system. It required experts in diverse disciplines: computational linguistics, natural language processing, machine learning, information retrieval and game theory, to name a few.
Likewise, the scientists would have to reject an ego-driven perspective and embrace the distributed intelligence that the project demanded. Some were still looking for that silver bullet that they might find all by themselves. But that represented the antithesis of how we would ultimately succeed. We learned to depend on a philosophy that embraced multiple tracks, each contributing relatively small increments to the success of the project.
Ferrucci and Watson succeeded because of vision, collaboration and a willingness to break down cultural barriers. Whether you're at Lotusphere or simply following along, I invite you to think about where those attributes can take your own organizations.
A quick follow-up to yesterday's post about the most interesting things to have graced my screen in the last few days.
First, from LeWeb:
I watched the video feed from Europe's largest conference for all things digital and came away with a few observations:
Whither, America? Growth outside the U.S. was a recurring theme. It's a global playground. With smartphones, the world is literally in everyone's hands.
Oh, SoLoMo! Marketers, take note: your initiatives must excel in three attributes (social, mobile, local) to be successful.
Get smart: Smartphones let consumers participate in the global community and be intensely local at the same time. What's happening right now, right in front of you is as accessible and as important as what's happening half a world away.
Instagram is just getting started. Apple's "App of the Year" has almost 14 million users but doesn't have a web site. Nor does it advertise. What the service does do exceedingly well, however, is make a popular and meaningful activity even more so for millions of people. "We're at 1 per cent of where we want to be,� said CEO Kevin Systrom. �Talk to me again when we have 100 million users ... and even then I'm not sure if we will have made it. "Everyone wants to document their lives."
Second, from the IBM Blogroll:
Steve Hamm has a great piece on the Smarter Planet blog called "Lessons for the United States from IBM's Centennial Journey" that provides some insights into why the country's economy continues to flag. He cites the work of Mary Meeker, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who remarks that if the U.S. were a company, it would be going out of business. Hamm finds helpful parallels between the country's current predicament and IBM's own near-death experience in the early 1990s.
Jobs in the Age of Watson: IBM Fellow Irving Wladawsky-Berger recounts his experiences as a panelist along with MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson back in October. Up for discussion was the impact of technology on the labor market. Specifically, will there be enough jobs to go around? Wladawsky-Berger segments the world of work into a 2X2 matrix (Routine/Non-routine, Cognitive/Manual) and forecasts the possible impact of technology and automation on each type. It's fascinating reading, with serious repercussions for everyone as they try to understand what solutions like Watson and Siri mean for their own careers.
Like Deep Blue in 1997, IBM took on Watson as its latest Grand Challenge � the ambitious research projects that push science in ways not thought possible. Should they succeed, as did Deep Blue, they reveal new insights into the power of computing, showcase the expertise of IBM Researchers and open new avenues of business and technological innovation.
For this Grand Challenge, IBM chose the scientific field of Question and Answering (�QA�). In building Watson, IBM researchers were to build a computing system that rivals a human�s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.
It wouldn�t be easy. And it would be would be tested on prime-time TV.
The Jeopardy! format provided the ultimate test of Watson's abilities. As anyone who�s watched the show could tell you, the game�s clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other complexities of language. Humans are good at this, computers are not. Plus, the questions could touch on any conceivable subject, and Watson was limited to what its creators put into its memory.
Building Watson involved asking many additional challenging questions: What semantic technologies would be needed to understand unstructured data? How do you build a system based on information as opposed to transactions? How do you build a system that can learn instead of being programmed?
Over a period of four years, they fed Watson mountains of information, including text from the World Book Encyclopedia, Wikipedia and books from Project Gutenberg. All told, Watson held the equivalent of about one million books worth of information. The team also wrote (and rewrote) the algorithms that let Watson break down each question into its key components and assess its confidence in each of the potential answers. To power Watson, they chose a cluster of Power 750� computers�ten racks holding 90 servers, for a total of 2880 processor cores running DeepQA software and storage. Then, through 55 sparring matches with former Jeopardy! champions, they tested and tweaked, tested and tweaked, tested and tweaked.
New frontiers of analytics
I wrote about Watson a lot. Specifically, I was interested in what it meant for business analytics. There�s something beautiful � and no doubt valuable to a business � about data that comes in neat and tidy rows. Sadly, little about business is either neat or tidy. Now, a full 80 percent of an organization�s data is unstructured; volumes are growing at an exponential rate. Organizations need to understand not only at what their internal systems are telling them, but what their customers, partners and the market is telling them, too. The problem is that their computing systems aren�t set up to handle this new reality. If Watson could interpret the twisted logic of a Daily Double and answer with confidence, the analytical possibilities for interpreting and unlocking the business value of unstructured data would be endless. If you could use language, you could use Watson.
Like a knife through butter
The Jeopardy! Challenge aired over two days starting on February 14 and for those two days I marveled as Watson ran through the categories like a hot knife through butter. By the end of the first day it had accumulated $35,734 to Rutter�s $10,400 and Jennings� $4,800. By the end of the game, Watson had racked up $77,147, besting Jennings' $24,000 and Rutter�s $21,60. IBM donated the $1M grand prize to charity, with equal donations to World Vision and the World Community Grid. Likewise, Jennings and Rutter donated half of their winnings ($300,000 and $200,000, respectively) to charities of their choice..
Afterwards, Jennings would observe: [T]here's no shame in losing to silicon [...] After all, I don't have 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of reference works at my disposal�nor can I buzz in with perfect timing whenever I know an answer. My puny human brain, just a few bucks worth of water, salts, and proteins, hung in there just fine against a jillion-dollar supercomputer. Jennings was also surprised to learn that he was, in fact, the actual inspiration for project:
Watching you on Jeopardy! is what inspired the whole project," one IBM engineer told me, consolingly. "And we looked at your games over and over, your style of play. There's a lot of you in Watson." I understood then why the engineers wanted to beat me so badly: To them, I wasn't the good guy, playing for the human race. That was Watson's role, as a symbol and product of human innovation and ingenuity."
Putting Watson to work
The lights had barely dimmed on the studio before discussions turned to commercial applications for Watson. In keeping with its Grand Challenge, IBM chose healthcare, and announcedIBM Content and Predictive Analytics for Healthcare at last October�s Information On Demand (IOD). At the press briefing, newly appointed IBM GM of Watson Solutions Manoj Saxena said IBM chose healthcare first because of its ability to make a direct improvement in peoples� lives: �Watson has tremendous potential for applications that improve the efficiency of care and reduce wait times for diagnosis and treatment by enabling clinicians with access to the best clinical data the moment they need it."
Consider the stats:
There are 12,000 diseases in the world; some take years to diagnose and treat.
The volume of medical information doubles every five years.
81 percent of doctors spend five hours or less per month reading medical journals.
One in five patients suffers from preventable readmissions, which represent $17.4 billion of the current $102.6 billion U.S. Medicare budget.
Watson will transform for the better the way healthcare is administered, delivered and paid for, said Saxena. Watson's ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information to suggest options targeted to a patient's circumstances, can assist physicians and nurses, in identifying the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients.
It�s been fascinating for me to follow Watson�s progress from game show contestant to business solution. Watson adds another important dimension to the interplay between technology and humanity. In focusing on healthcare out of the gate, we saw the mission of IBM reflected once again � not only to make a profit, but to make a difference. On a smarter planet, Watson may soon be an indispensable asset to the medical profession, making a positive difference in the lives of thousands of patients.
Back in January, IBM Chair, President & CEO Sam Palmisano called 2011 �a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [for IBMers] to reconnect with our company...what we stand for and value... [to] show the world what makes IBM and IBMers unique.�
For my own part, I was proud to lead a group of 30-plus IBMers and friends in a skills building workshop series at the Ottawa Mission. Our efforts led to a $15,000 grant to help the Mission bolster its education, employment and skills training for my city�s most vulnerable and at-risk citizens. On a lighter note, my post on the IBM Selectric set off an email trail that connected collector/restorer Jordan Armstrong with an increasingly rare motor clutch bushing (IBM part no. 1236572) that he couldn�t find anywhere else:
As I am sure you know, the Selectric is an incredibly durable machine, one that with proper care and maintenance could last practically forever, which is my hope. With the Selectric I recently turning 50, I hope to have and restore many more machines up to it's 100th birthday. If I should be so lucky. Could you please forward this message to someone, anyone, who perhaps would know of a supply in some deep dark corner of an IBM warehouse?
"Change everything except your beliefs"
In 1962, then-CEO Tom Watson Jr. remarked that �to survive and achieve success, a company must be willing to change everything about itself except its beliefs.� I�d argue you could apply the same idea to your own career. With Transformation as a dominant theme in the Centennial celebrations, I made important changes of my own.
Most importantly, I changed jobs. After nearly a decade in Business Analytics, I made the transition to a new role with IBM Software. So far, I believe, the move has paid off. My new role brings with it new and expanded responsibilities. As a result I�ve taken big steps to broaden my perspective on our business and develop my skills in innovative new ways. The past six months have been phenomenal.
The biggest transformation, however, is yet to come. Next year I will participate in the IBM Corporate Service Corps. Modeled on the Peace Corps, the �CSC� pulls together diverse teams of IBMers from around the world and sends them for a month to emerging markets around the world. While there they work in communities with NGOs and local leaders to improve their economies and make their cities smarter. Many participants call it the most significant event of their lives. I can�t wait.
I, too, believe the company�s best days are yet to come. Warren Buffet has his reasons; here are mine:
Compelling vision: In the most unsettled and uncertain age in decades, our ongoing Smarter Planet strategy offers a way for companies, governments and IBMers to solve the toughest challenges we face as a society. Like no other company, IBM understands that our world is growing increasingly instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. Like no other company, IBM views the confluence of these trends as a tremendous opportunity to transform and improve the way the world literally works. From New York to Stockholm and within industries as diverse as retail, healthcare and banking, IBMers redoubled their efforts with clients, partners and community organizations to make their processes, systems and people work smarter.
Relentless innovation:Watson � the latest IBM �Grand Challenge� - captured the public�s imagination when it bested Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, the two most successful Jeopardy! contestants ever to pick up the signaling button. But Watson was no mere novelty. IBM�s value proposition is to create and provide innovative solutions to our clients - solutions they can�t get from anyone else. Watson�s unique union of natural language processing and computational prowess opens new avenues of potential for IT architectures and advanced analytics to solve previously insoluble problems. Today, a mere eight months after its prime-time debut, Watson is at work in a real-world situation, sorting helping clinicians in Texas deliver patient care by sorting through and analyzing reams of medical information with ease.
Passionate people: IBM is most commonly thought of as a technology company. But what made the Centennial remarkable was its human dimension. The first Centennial video, 100 X 100 told the story of IBM�s technological innovation not in arcane terms but in human ones. As the film progresses from clocks to punch cards to Deep Blue and Watson, we see human stories � full of risk, courage, even humor. In the second, They Were There, retired IBMers recount stories of their own experiences and how through IBM they were able to change the way the world works.
The final video, A Culture of Service, showcases how IBMers use their skills and abilities to make a positive contribution to the world. The quality and commitment of IBMers has for me been the biggest discovery. Rare is the week when I don�t meet another exceptionally talented and committed individual.
Carry it forward
It's been a remarkable year for me at IBM. I am tremendously proud of this company and what it�s achieved. I am unduly excited about the possibilities it offers me to learn and grow. At the same time I�ve been humbled by the tremendous generosity, enthusiasm and dedication that my colleagues have shown me in helping IBM move forward toward its goal of making a positive difference in my own backyard. As it enters its second century, IBM can draw from the lessons of its first for the confidence and perseverance it will need to succeed. Through my experience of its Centennial, I know I can draw on these lessons to succeed in my own career as well.
IOD started with kids playing with jigsaw puzzles and ended with naked baseball players.
I dare you to say that analytics isn't fun.
And transformative. And an absolute priority should you want to survive in these uncertain times. Over the past three days we've all seen and learned so much that it's sometimes difficult to recall the key themes. So I've presented them for you here, built as we've gone along learning to turn insight into action:
3. Commit to change, embrace the new: Last year's assumptions and last month's targets are history; focus on what will take you forward. Commitment to change has helped IBM survive for a full 100 years. Billy Beane overturned an entrenched century-old culture to redefine value and change the way his game was played. Your presence at IOD attests to your desire to change, too.
4. Paging Dr. Watson: Hospital readmissions are punitive for the provider and counterproductive for the patient. Incomplete data drives incorrect diagnoses. Medical errors cost real human lives. With our health care partners we've put Watson to work with real-world solutions to reverse these trends and eliminate these errors. With Watson's help doctors can better understand each patient in startling new detail and treat each patient in effective new ways.
5. Don't mess with Billy Beane's mom.If you're writing a book about a baseball GM who swears a lot, be prepared for his mom's withering glare. Her son just doesn't talk like that.
6. No industry is immune from disruption. Urbanization. Changing citizen and customer expectations. Economic uncertainty. Increased regulations. Lots and lots of data. All are interconnected; all are hitting you on every side, all the time. Your task is to quantify the impact, assess the risks and harness the opportunities in new and productive ways. On a planet that is instrumented, interconnected and intelligent there is no domain that is untouched by these forces. There is no domain where analytics - and IBM - cannot help. At IOD you've seen how we're doing precisely this.
7. Jeff Jonas is evil. Just look at the guy. Look at the way he dresses. Luckily, he's the charismatic, smart kind of evil you can't help but listen to, because you can feel yourself getting smarter yourself the longer � and faster - he talks. Frankly, I'm glad he's on our side.
8. Got social? It's time to get serious about social media analytics. There's enough data out there and enough computational power to build predictive customer loyalty models based on blogs and tweets alone. That's along, long way from zip codes. Need the tools to get started? We have them, too.
9. Congratulation, Ginni. Our soon-to-be President and CEO will take charge with IBM operating from a solid foundation and 'at the top of its game.' She's successful, she's thoughtful. She gets things done.
10. It's business, and it's personal.This is the age of the empowered consumer. They're demanding, they're patient and they're in control of your brand. If you want to win their business � and keep them coming back � you'll need to know more about them than where they live. The data to do this is out there and so are the tools. The choice of how and when to use them is entirely up to you.
11. Kudos to the Mandalay Bay staff for keeping us fed and caffeinated. Greeting 11,000 bleary-eyed conference goers with a friendly smile before 9 AM is no easy task; yet to a person you outdo yourselves every single year.
Well, that's it from my end for this year's edition of Information On Demand. As of right now, I'm taking what I believe to be a very necessary vacation. I'll return refreshed and recharged in two weeks. Safe travels, and see you next year.
Technology advertising has existed for nearly a century, continuously promising a life made easier thanks to better, cheaper and faster gadgets. The only thing that changes is the art direction.
At the time these ads announced hard-won innovations in power and speed. Now, they invoke simple amusement at the way things used to be.
Why is this?
I posed the question to Don Campbell, a longtime tech watcher and IBM Distinguished Engineer. What ensued was a fascinating discussion about the pace of innovation, our relationship with the technology we build and what we�ll find funny 20 years from now. Below are the highlights:
Why do we find old technology ads so amusing?
There was always a lot of romance in these ads about what a system could do for you � it would make you better, smarter, faster, richer, faster � all of those things. And yet they never drew the connecting point between the technology of the day and what you�d get as a result. The buyer needed to make the leap of faith that by the time you acquired the technology and figured out how it worked that the maker would have filled in the blanks between what it could actually do � which in most cases was add numbers together � and something that could make a meaningful difference in your life. It�s the gap that we never got over.
What does this say about us? Why do we keep buying into the romance?
We want a partner in our lives. We want technology to be that partner � not just a tool that we use, but a partner that will take care of the boring stuff that we don�t want to do. And we humanize it into being a partner.
At every leading edge of technology, there is a little more of that human element that we want to give it. I think we have some of those feelings for our iPads or our favorite mobile devices. But when we realize that a particular device didn�t become our partner, then it looks like one of those old ads.
Watson wasn�t human � but it used human language and was built to compete against humans using human rules. Could Watson be that partner?
What interested me about Watson wasn't the system called �Watson.� I don�t have a lot of applications in my business for winning on Jeopardy! What did interest me were the analytics possibilities that it opened up if you were to combine its components with other analytics capabilities. For example: it breaks down a problem and attacks it in multiple domains; it understands its confidence in each of those domains; it combines those confidence levels into an overall confidence level and a threshold that determines how to act. Sometimes it had the right answer but wasn�t confident enough to buzz in.
These are attributes that you can apply to your business � we�re getting all kinds of unstructured content from blogs, tweets and message boards, but we�re not sure how much we should trust them. Now, we can apply Watson algorithms and capabilities to this data to help us understand whether or not we should trust what�s being said, whether we should respond and how.
There�s also the gaming aspect, which is quite appropriate for our businesses. In some cases, I might want to make as much money as I can as quickly as possible; in others, all I might need to do is beat a specific competitor in one area at a particular time. In that case I�ll want to reduce my risk and choose different tactics to drive a better outcome. So when we think about the gaming part of our business, I think Watson has a lot to teach us.
Ken Jennings said that on most nights, the top Jeopardy! players know most the answers; winning is more a matter of who buzzes in first. Our businesses are less about the specifics of Jeopardy! and more about trying to maximize how often you�re right given the information you have and how well you can pull it all together. The algorithms in Watson help it accomplish this and that's extremely valuable in a business context. I was very impressed with how well it dealt with the nuances of the language and the complexity that was behind those questions to get most of its answers right.
Does Watson eliminate the disconnect between the promise and performance? Does it follow through on the romance?
Watson�s success is a tremendous accomplishment. But no matter what we say today, you know that 20 years from now we�ll be having this same conversation. No matter now good our technology is now, we�ll all be saying, �Can you believe it took a room full of rack-mounted servers to do that? Let me just ask my watch.� But the fact that Watson had more human characteristics � it spoke, it played a game that humans play in a way that felt more human, it took natural language as an input and produced natural language as output, and even conversed as it chose each question � that will drive it more into our comfort zone.
Technology will always change. But will what we want from technology change as well?
I think our expectations will continue to grow in the same space. We�ve made tremendous progress in many domains. But in some respects we�ve not yet lived up to the ads of 25 years ago. Until we do, there�s a lofty goal out there for a system to support us in the way we want to be supported. We�re getting better at allowing more people to participate in technology and benefit from what it can do for us � for example we don�t have to type in lines of code from the back pages of Byte Magazine to make our system run � but I think in general we still want that partner in our lives that will make our world easier to manage and that will free us up to do more things. We�ve made progress, but too much technology still makes us perform tasks on its own terms.
Turns out there's a little bit of O-town know-how in the code coursing through Watson's massive brain. On the eve of Wednesday's finale, Vito Pilieci of the Ottawa Citizen reported that a team from the Ottawa IBM lab contributed to the Java Virtual Machine that helps move masses of information through Watson's internal networks at astoundingly high speeds.
�The team here in Ottawa has been developing virtual machine technology for years,� said Rob White, director of the Ottawa software lab site. �It was very natural that the Java Virtual Machine would underpin the Watson project.� The Virtual Machine is a programming language that routes information quickly through a computer network. In effect, the employees at the Ottawa labs provided a central nervous system for Watson allowing it to react quickly much like a person feels a pin prick in the finger the instant it happens thanks to nerves sending a pain signal to the brain."
The team celebrated with a "Watson Watch Party" at Oliver's pub at Carleton University and entertained questions from curious computer science students after the show.
Left to right, they are: Andrew Low, Rick Kenny, John Duimovich, Karl Taylor and Charlie Gracie. In front with the J9 t-shirt is Ken Walker. Congrats, guys!
I ask that question not only of Watson itself, but of ourselves in the long-running and fascinating relationship between humans and the machines they create. Both questions are inextricably linked, and both have multiple answers. I�ll posit one for each:
First, Watson could go into production quite quickly. Many of its components are currently available and several industries � healthcare and finance, for example � are ideal candidates for first-phase proof-of-concept deployments. As the global economy emerges from the turmoil of the past three years, these industries � not to mention the various functions within them � will be more in need of answers and insights than ever before.
As for the second question, Watson could usher in a new and exciting chapter in the story. Now that the lights have come down on the Jeopardy! set, it� s no longer man versus machine, but man with machine. The former may have made for entertaining television, but it�s the latter that we must focus on now.
To that end, I�m inviting you to tune into today's TED Talk on the Future of Watson at 11:30 AM ET featuring members of the research team. You can submit your questions using #ibmwatson or #askwatson I'll also invite you to add your voice to our ongoing exchange on LinkedIn. Finally, I'll leave you with a few quotes from the people who put us down this exciting new path. Ours is becoming a Smarter Planet. Watson may bring us there sooner than we think.
�This was a big accomplishment for people.� Dr. David Gondek
�I would have thought that technology like this was years away.� Brad Rutter
"I think we saw something important today.� Ken Jennings
"Wow. This is history." Dr. Jennifer Chu-Carroll
"This is about taking technology to solve problems that people really care about." Dr. David Ferrucci
[T]he true implications of Watson�s technology will come after it retires from the stage and pursues a workaday career in offices and labs. That�s when Watson will shed its avatar and revert to its true nature, that of a powerful machine working for us, not against us. Watson will be a tool [...] Once you regard this technology as a powerful supplement to human cognition � and not a replacement � Watson suddenly starts to look much friendlier.
Fourth: After watching Jeopardy! for two nights now it finally hit me: Yes, Watson is a tremendous technological achievement. But the real story is what it says about our own human intelligence. It was invented by humans � incredibly smart ones, at that � and filled with humanity�s collective achievements. That it took IBM researchers four years to get here is a testament to the complexity the human mind. Watson is a fantastic way to augment humanity�s collective wisdom and achievements by making them available � instantly � to more people in the most natural way possible. That�s big. Moon landing big. And befitting of a company heading into its second century with its original motto - THINK - more in evidence than ever.
I saw the future of analytics last night, and that future was fast.
Fast enough for Watson to jump ahead by a few thousand dollars, before Brad Rutter (and the audience) caught their breath and finally caught up.
With the questions getting more difficult in Double Jeopardy, tonight�s game one finale will no doubt be a barn burner. Blink and you�ll miss it.
Along those lines, Steve Baker had a great op-ed piece in the L.A. Times this morning that addressed some of the fears that Watson may engender to the casual observer. Whether he allayed them is a question for another day, but I think I can summarize his point this way:
The machines aren�t taking over. They�re taking us forward.
It's all too easy to see Watson do its thing and conclude that legions of such machines will soon relieve us of our brainwork and our jobs, if not our souls. In fact, machines like Watson will no doubt displace people who are paid to answer questions, probably starting with telephone call centers.But humans will adjust, as we always have. When our inventions, from tractors and cotton gins to spell-checking software, take over certain chores, we move to niches beyond the range of these tools. And believe me, after watching Watson in action for a year, I can assure you that there's plenty of room in the work world for the still-peerless human mind.
This, as I see it, is the true potential for Watson. Watson doesn�t �know� anything � at least not in the same way that we know things. But we can feed it raw data from our own vast stores of knowledge and experience. We can ask it questions that we thought were too difficult to answer. Or that we thought would take too long to answer. Or that we thought we had insufficient data to answer. And through its algorithms and sheer processing power, it can reveal things we didn�t know and reveal them sooner.
With every advance in technology comes a corresponding advance in our own capabilities. Watson can reveal insights about our business and our world that we can�t arrive at on our own. And ideas and insights are what drives us forward.
As Baker writes:
We've already outsourced long division, spelling and much of our highway navigation to machines. Now we'll look to them more and more to dig through mountains of data and come up with answers for us. This should free us up to do what remains uniquely human, at least for now: generating fresh ideas.
Four years of research and the future of analytics are unveiled tonight at 7:30 PM Eastern, as Watson takes on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on a special three-day run of Jeopardy!
As of this writing, Watson remains in the lead in the Web visitors' poll at 55 percent. However, Brad Rutter has made significant gains at the expense of Ken Jennings, moving from single digits a few weeks ago to 26 percent, seven points ahead of Jennings. No doubt these numbers will shift again based on the outcomes of tonight's episode.
It's been a fascinating and fun ride so far, and if you're curious to know what Watson means for your own analytics-driven future, here are seven things you can do before tuning in: