Watson gets down to business

In 2011 IBM’s supercomputer won a game of Jeopardy against two of Jeopardy’s greatest champions. That brought the name IBM’s Watson to the forefront of the computer world. That was, however, just the beginning. Watson’s story is both fast-moving and unique.

Watson Gets in Shape

After the Jeopardy win, IBM got down to business. Watson lost weight and gained muscle just as if he were in training. After a year or two Watson was 200 to 300 times faster and one-sixteenth the size.

Watson Business Group

In 2014 IBM launched a new, $1 billion Watson Business Group with $100 million in venture capital earmarked toward new Watson apps. Their goal was to have Watson provide services to every America business. IBM made a commitment to adapt Watson’s technology to many different industries.

Watson Health

It started in 2015 with the introduction of Watson Health with the medical industry. IBM began buying businesses with medical data.  They equipped Watson with a lab coat and fed him tons of medical data. They partnered with Quest Diagnostics which gave Watson information on gene sequencing and diagnostic analysis. Through partnerships with oncology hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and health insurer Wellpoint, Watson became known as “the expert” in determining the best treatment for cancer patients. IBM started building Watson partnerships with medical facilities and educational institutions around the country.

IBM's Watson

Watson Plays Jeopardy

And why not, while doctors read hundreds of medical documents in a year, Watson can “read” every one ever created. He can stay abreast of the quickly changing medical world and sort through massive amounts of information.

What is Watson?

Watson is more than just a supercomputer. Watson is a cognitive computing system. It is a platform of big data. Running on IBM’s Bluemix platform as a service, it can apply advanced analytics to a wide variety of industries. The money put up by the Watson Business group allowed IBM to garner a collections of APIs and SDKs that can be put into apps. The APIs query the servers for pertinent data and Watson puts it into context providing intelligent analysis. The result is IBM’s Cognitive business model.
Watson embodies a new era in computing called cognitive computing. In the world of cognitive computing, the systems have been fed tons of data and they process that data in a more human-like way. Like humans, Watson learns from previous interactions and is constantly adding knowledge and insight.
Watson is much more than Siri, Cortana, or Alexa, voice assistants who use keywords and phrases and searches the web to come up with their answers. Watson accumulates learning and tries to replicate human-like thinking to produce answers. Watson uses natural language processing and machine learning to process insights from unstructured data. As such, if given a voice, it could be an unbelievable competitor to these other personal assistant.


Many other big names like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are focused on bringing Artificial Intelligence tools and technology into the home.  Other companies like Salesforce, SAP, and Oracle are into A.I. focused on business. Watson is unique in that he brings a wealth of data to the table and combines that with the knowledge of experts.

Many Hats

Over the years, IBM has let Watson try on many different hats. These include a chef’s hat. In 2014, IBM teamed up with Bon Appétit to create Chef Watson. By combining his knowledge of Bon Appétit recipes and his understanding of chemical flavor compounds, Watson allowed chefs everywhere to create unique recipes with flavorful combinations. If you have any interest at all in cooking, check out Scientific America’s Flavor Compounds which will give you an idea of the type of data that Watson used. Although I couldn’t find the Chef Watson Bon Appétit app from 2014, but I found an interesting app where IBM dressed Watson up in a bar apron. There is a free app called the Watson Twist in the iTunes store. In this app, Chef Watson uses his cognitive computing power to find flavorful drink pairings to help you create inspired cocktail concoctions.

H&R Block with Watson

If you saw the IBM commercial during the Super bowl, you might be able to imagine that now IBM has decided to dress Watson in a shirt and tie. Given their goal to combine Watson’s cognitive knowledge with human expertise, IBM has teamed up with H&R Block and their thousands of agents. Watson has swallowed more than 74,000 pages of tax laws and keeps up with thousands of yearly tax law changes. Added to the tax knowledge of H&R Block’s tax experts, this should be a win-win for taxpayers.
IBM's Watson

The Future

We are sure to see Watson wearing his suit and tie, offering services to all types of businesses in the near future. IBM has recently partnered with Apple to collaborate on exclusive industry-specific applications on the iOS operating system. The first app which will service the energy industry was just released.
IBM has deep ties to the corporate world as well as much accumulated industry expertise so it can use its many tentacles to go after industries that Watson can improve. IBM has built a large open Watson ecosystem which developers, tech enthusiasts, businesses, and students can tap into. Watson solutions are being built and used all over the world. There is no doubt that this initiative has reached massive proportions and will continue to grow.
IBM is already working on giving Watson the ability to recognize a wide variety of images. Many expect that IBM will give Watson voice-recognition capabilities in the near future. Watson is already a super-computer who is poised to be useful to almost every different type of business. Adding even more capabilities could bring the focus to the home, as well.
IBM's Watson
All images courtesy of IBM