IBM Watson: Machine with Human Intellect

IBM’s Watson has come a long way from its challenging days. A supercomputer capable of answering questions posed in natural language is now being used to address myriad of challenges across a variety of domains, from identifying cancer treatments, improving weather forecasting to making life better for individuals with autism and other cognitive disorders. The extraordinary capabilities of this cognitive machine can also be seen in Hollywood today; the trailer of Morgan, a sci-fi thriller about scientists who created a dangerous synthetic humanoid, was built by the real-life AI computer Watson. It developed the trailer by analyzing the visual, audio, and composition of individual scenes, finding what makes each moment eerie, how the actors’ tone of voice changed the frames and lighting of each scene.

Until now, computers used to give absolute answers. Watson is a clear example of evolution of computing system that could learn, understand, and reason like humans do. The system, equipped with data mining, machine learning, and natural language processing capabilities, continually acquires knowledge from the data fed into it. Watson sifts through massive amounts of data including unstructured texts, documents, emails, social posts, images and videos—to answer questions in real-time. Watson understands the questions posed to it in natural human language and provides the user with a response (or a set of responses) by generating and evaluating various hypotheses around different interpretations of the question and possible answers to it.

The Watson supercomputer processes at a rate of 80 teraflops (trillion floating-point operations per second). To replicate (or surpass) a high-functioning human’s ability to answer questions, Watson accesses 90 servers with a combined data store of over 200 million pages of information, which it processes against six million logic rules. Applications for the Watson’s underlying cognitive computing technology are almost endless.

With Watson, users can utilize machine learning to grow the subject matter expertise in their apps and systems and also assist in creating chat bots that can engage in dialog. It has the ability to provide personalized recommendations by understanding a user’s personality, tone, and emotions. Watson is available as a set of open APIs and SaaS products that allow users to build cognition into their apps and products, whether it’s a web or native app, or even robotics.

IBM’s Watson Group has grown dramatically, with well over 100,000 developers worldwide now working with more than three dozen Watson Application Program Interfaces (APIs), “The distinctness of the Watson approach has been to create software that can be embedded in other people’s applications, and these are especially used by the companies that don’t feel comfortable putting their data into a single learning system—particularly one that’s connected to a search engine—because in effect that commoditizes their intellectual property and their cumulative knowledge,” explains David Kenny, General Manager of IBM Watson Group.

Watson in Action

IBM’s Watson’s cognitive computing enables people to create a new kind of value with answers and insights that are being derived from various sources of structured/unstructured data.


The Watson brand is attracting some extraordinary minds from other companies, and the top thinkers in IBM are working on this project


The supercomputer’s analyzing capabilities mirror some of the key cognitive elements of the human mind. But Watson first needs to learn a new subject before it can answer questions about it. It does so by downloading all related materials, such as Word documents, PDFs, and web pages then analyzes the material. Question and answer pairs are added to train Watson on the subject; Watson is automatically updated as new information is published. Watson answers a question by searching millions of documents to find thousands of possible answers; it collects evidences and uses a scoring algorithm to rate the quality of this evidence and ranks all possible answers based on the score of its supporting evidence.

IBM has collaborated with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to develop a Watson-enabled diagnosis tool to provide physicians with evidence-based diagnosis and treatment suggestions for cancer patients. The tool includes supporting evidence and the data source with every suggestion to aid the doctor’s decision-making process. The tool points out areas where more information is needed and updates suggestions as new data is added. The solution’s corpus combines patient data with massive volumes of medical literature, which will be enhanced as new oncology techniques, treatments, and evidence are added to the corpus. Watson has collaborated with highly regarded healthcare providers and a health insurance company to help medical professionals diagnose illnesses and identify treatment options.

Watson Advisors

Watson has developed three solutions that apply cognitive computing capabilities to address multi-industry tasks: Engagement Advisor, Discovery Advisor, and Policy Advisor. Watson has also launched Industry Advisors like: Watson for Oncology, Watson for Wealth Management, and the Chef Advisor.

The Engagement Advisor helps businesses deliver more personalized interactions with their customers. Customers can ask questions in plain English, such as through customer self-service or an agent, and receive tailored answers along with supporting evidence. For example, customers may ask: “How do I apply for a savings account?”, “What are my benefits?”, and “Which is the best product based on my requirements?”

The Discovery Advisor acts as a research assistant to clients engaged in R&D activities, such as the pharmaceutical industry. It allows the researchers to focus on the most relevant information and quickly connect pieces of supporting evidence spread over millions of documents. For example, researchers can ask: “Which cancer therapies inhibit the FLT3 mutation?”
David Kenny, GM The Policy Advisor assists clients with compliance or policy-related decisions. For example, the advisor can automatically process applications, such as those filed for Social Security benefits, against related policies. For example, clients can ask: “Can this procedure be approved based on NY state guidelines?”

"The distinctness of the Watson approach has been to create software that can be embedded in other people’s applications"

Industry-specific Advisors: Watson for Oncology searches medical journals, texts, guidelines, and leading practices to help physicians make more informed treatment decisions for cancer patients. Watson for Wealth Management captures the investment knowledge of leading wealth managers and other resources to help individuals meet their financial goals. Chef Watson sifts through quintillions of possible combinations of ingredients, flavors, and individual preferences to help cooks discover new recipes.

Watson’s Competition

Many large technology players are investing in cognitive computing or AI. Digital personal assistants, such as the Siri voice recognition software by Apple Inc., Google Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana respond to natural language requests and understand context. Apple has extended these capabilities to integrate Siri voice recognition with the Apple CarPlay software system. Google has purchased DeepMind, which uses AI for e-commerce and games. Microsoft announced the addition of Delve to its Office 365 family. Delve proactively identifies relevant enterprise content based on how the user interacts with others through Microsoft Office products and documents.

There are also a growing number of cognitive computing niche players that offer applications ranging from sentiment analysis to conversion of graphs into words. However, one can say that Watson is leading the pack owing to its unique features and ability. IBM is the only company marketing a cognitive computing platform that’s specifically designed to support the development of a broad range of enterprise solutions combining deep cognitive computing capabilities where Watson uses natural language processing, machine learning, and evidence-based hypotheses and scoring. And, support community with IBM is building the Watson Partners Program around its Watson offering—including app developers, content providers, and service providers. “The Watson brand is attracting some extraordinary minds from other companies, and the top thinkers in IBM are working on this project,” Kenny says. “This is becoming a magnet for great talent. And as these products become ready over the next year or two, people will see more of that.”

Company
IBM Watson

Headquarters
Armonk, NY

Management
David Kenny, GM

Description
Watson is a cognitive system that enables a new partnership between people and computers that enhances and scales human expertise