I have seen the future of AI in business, and it is truly grand.
Myself and a few other Asponte employees attended the IBM World of Watson conference in Las Vegas from October 22-27th. IBM has shifted from smaller product focused conferences to being bigger and broader umbrella brands encompassing many products within the internal IBM brand. This has made the conferences balloon from a couple thousand to over twenty thousand attendees. My biggest complaint for the size is the ridiculous amount of sessions. Its great that there’s a lot to choose from, but it takes an hour just to get through a single day’s list. Getting into the labs is a bit difficult as well, although the standby system seems to work if you can get on the list. Las Vegas is the natural choice for a conference of this size, but as one who goes to almost all of them, I’m ready for somewhere else not nearly as expensive.
Analytics based artificial intelligence is the natural next chapter for big data. IBM Watson while branded as AI, is really a very complex analytics engine. Where IBM is really making strides is within its new SyNAPSE chip. It’s a new chip architecture that actually functions like the human brain, having the ability to connect “ideas” or “memories” and then drop them when they’re no longer relevant. It’s truly a cognitive piece of hardware and it consumes exponentially lower power than any chip in IBM’s history. This combination of cognitive hardware running cognitive software means that IBM is truly leading in the artificial intelligence and big data analytics realms.
We started Sunday off by attending the first half of the AI education summit. Here we saw where Watson was using Twitter data overlaid with CDC data to predict the flu. Using predictive analytics, they were able to prove that Twitter was a fairly reliable data source for predicting a flu outbreak. The CDC data when received is two weeks old, whereas Twitter data is nearly real time, thus providing a reliable predictive source. The solution uses Watson natural language classifier to parse out the tweets and look for relevant information. The solution was really neat, and you can explore it yourself by going to http://www.flu-prediction.com.
That afternoon on Sunday we attended the Business Partner Summit along with seemingly thousands of other partners. In typical fashion, there were some business partner speakers talking about the power of analytics as well as some special speakers, such as Ray Wang who gave an epic presentation on AI. We got a glimpse of the upcoming product announcements such as the IBM social brand being rebranded to “Work with Watson” and the Commerce group is now “Cognitive Engagement”.
Monday morning kicked off the general conference with sessions starting as early as 8am, but Asponte participated in a special breakfast sponsored by The Weather Company, an IBM Business. We forget just how much weather impacts our daily lives and thus our businesses. The Weather Company is on a mission to be able to predict weather patterns every five hundred feet across the world. In order to achieve this, they have software inside their mobile applications that are sending data back to home base. Our phones are measuring barometric pressure, which is the indicator of weather patterns. It’s pretty neat stuff and I had no idea we as end users were actually who was supplying the company with data. Keep an eye out on Asponte’s web site for our plans on how our customers can utilize weather data in predicting trends in sales across industries.
I personally attended nine sessions my first day. It’s pretty clear that chatbots are hot, and IBM has provided a chatbot interface and has tailored versions of it per industry. For instance, there’s a Watson Virtual Assistant for both Healthcare and Insurance, and it’s ready for integration out of the box.
Another really cool use of AI that’s becoming increasingly prevalent is augmented and virtual reality. IBM and other companies are using VR to give customers an avenue and really neat interaction point with their analytics. Using VR, users can virtually grab or remove blocks of data and run queries by using their hands. Look out Tom Cruise in Minority Report, we’re coming for you!
Tuesday morning kicked off what we normally would consider the OGS, or Opening General Session, at the T-Mobile arena a few blocks away. This isn’t typical as normally these are first thing on day one of the conference. Thomas Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, stole the show on Tuesday with an epic, moving, and inspirational speech. Being Las Vegas, we were up a little late the night before and we chose to watch the two morning sessions from our hotel room via the IBM GO section within the IBM Events mobile application. We were able to cast from our iPad to the TV in the hotel room and enjoyed the luxury of “attending” virtually.
The highlight on Wednesday was the speech by Ginni Rometty, the President and CEO of IBM. She gave a very convincing speech on why IBM and Watson is *THE* business platform for AI. She then interviewed the CEO of General Motors where she announced a partnership with IBM and Watson. It will now provide cognitive abilities to GM’s OnStar program with the new intuitive interface entitled OnStar GO. Watson will analyze your commute and suggest stops along the way. It can even place your coffee order for you if it detects you’re heading that way.
I personally skipped out on the special event on Wednesday evening, the Imagine Dragons concert. However I heard that it was a great show and they played for longer than anticipated. I opted for the red eye back home where I jumped right back into my Asponte duties on Thursday morning attending a client’s backlog grooming session.
Where IBM and Watson will continue to rise is with key partnerships, like General Motors and its OnStar Go platform. IBM and Watson focus on business, quite wisely at that. Google and Microsoft are targeting the consumer and consumer’s view of AI resides in the “Ok, Google” and “Siri” platforms. IBM realizes that businesses need deep learning capabilities and these low level conversation platforms is not meant for the enterprise. IBM is clearly leading the way in applicable AI in business, and they’re doing one heck of a job at it. I’m personally very excited to see just how far we’ll advance in a single calendar year when I hopefully go back next year for World of Watson 2017.