Power to the people

In my life outside of IBM, I’ve found that most people have a limited understanding of artificial intelligence. You can’t blame them, really. At this point, the average person has been exposed to AI in one of two ways: 1.) dystopian sci-fi movies; and 2.) “smart” speakers that tell jokes and recite recipes. I’m not knocking either of these things. I love sci-fi. And at home, my smart speaker has practically become part of the family. But a big part of my job is to use our sports and entertainment partnerships with venues like the Masters, the US Open, and the GRAMMYs to show the uninitiated what IBM’s artificial intelligence can do. And Watson was not built to tell jokes. That’s why our partnership with ESPN Fantasy Football is so unique and exciting. There are more than 10 million people that own fantasy teams on ESPN’s platform. And each one of them will have a chance to personally experience the power of enterprise-grade artificial intelligence, right there on their phones. That’s something very few people outside of the business and technology communities get to do. Here’s how it works: Watson ingests and analyzes millions of news stories, opinion pieces and reports by expert fantasy gurus. It assesses the overall sentiment, or “buzz” surrounding different players. And it quantifies the potential risks and rewards in starting a particular player. Besides being a great deal of fun, this Watson integration offers millions of fantasy owners a glimpse of the future of business decision making, in which vast quantities of unstructured information – text, video, and voice -- can be analyzed and distilled to reveal insight and reduce uncertainty. It also gives IBM the opportunity to communicate important differences between consumer AI and enterprise AI. The Watson capabilities we’ve integrated into the ESPN platform are the same capabilities we’re using to mine medical research to improve the treatment of life-threatening disease, or revolutionize customer service for global banks. More than a billion people are already benefitting from 16,000 Watson engagements across 80 countries. But because Watson does its magic behind the scenes, most of them don’t know it. Eight years ago, people looked at me funny when I said that AI was going to change the world. They had no idea what I was talking about. Today, they still look at me funny, but for a totally different reason. They just can’t figure how a few voice-controlled gadgets are going to improve quality of life in any meaningful way. But I have the good fortune of working at IBM, where we built a true enterprise AI. I get to see how Watson is applied to solve life-changing challenges in both business and society. And our hope is that by using the ESPN fantasy app, millions more people will come to understand the power of this platform. And maybe even develop their own world-changing application one day.