Last week, I was at the IBM Analyst update and one of the presentations really caught my interest. It was on how Watson could be used to do a massively better job of targeting buyers by profiling them and then developing individually targeted campaigns that should have record-breaking conversion rates. This is a capability we simply haven’t seen in the market; in effect, this is like fully digitizing a top sales rep, a step that will be critical to bringing some of the new individually focused, cloud-based services to market effectively.
If you have the ability to individually profile someone deeply enough to change their behavior, you could also, at massive scale, have a running risk assessment on them. In other words, if I can predict, with increasing accuracy, someone’s buying behavior, I should also be able, with increasing accuracy, to predict their behavior in other areas. And, if I can do that deeply enough to identify threats, couldn’t I do it deeply enough to keep people from becoming threats?
Let’s talk about how something like Watson could make us both safer and better.
Given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, it is easy to jump to the security aspect of this first. Scanning large numbers of people looking for outlying behavior is what a computer could do best. So scanning a crowd going into an event looking for people who don’t look excited, are tense, and are not engaging with others as possible bomb carriers would be an obvious use of a computing resource. But once we are actively building ad profiles on people, these profiles could be used to risk assess everyone profiled and suggest approaching behaviors, which could result in unfortunate violence.
We could even scan for behavior not consistent with someone’s profile and perhaps identify better a mole or someone impersonating an invited guest to get through security to access an event, making it far more difficult to carry out an attack like we saw this month. You could flag unknowns, people who weren’t in the system, as potential threats and focus screening on them.
With Internet of Things sensors, you’d know the number of folks approaching an entrance, and flagging those who were actively dodging cameras in order to avoid identification should provide an additional layer of invisible security.
With regard to employees, who now may go around security, profiles would allow you to take the behavioral profile that already existed and then compare it to their anticipated behavior over time, flagging any variants, particularly anything that might imply a dangerous tendency. Remedial action would be based on whether the behavior was positive or negative and whether it represented an immediate risk or could be mitigated through training.
Over time, you’d also know the kind of in-depth information on an employee that would make them happier and perform better. You could almost instrument reviews and raises and assure they were fair because the system could rationalize salaries based on actual contribution. And if race and gender were left out of the calculation, it would likely be less discriminatory than the largely manual system we have now.
Imagine getting a regular detailed report that showcased which employees needed you to spend time on them and also identified employees who, though doing their job creatively, were actually more productive as a result and should be left alone. It would provide near real-time feedback on management practices and behaviors that were helping performance, those that were detracting from it, and where you could easily tell the difference between people who were working hard and folks who just looked like they were.
Applied correctly, Watson could not only result in a safer company but likely a much happier and more productive one, but only if it were applied to both problems. And since it will be profiling us all anyway for marketing, why not take this information in more powerful directions.
Wrapping Up: Thinking Bigger with Watson
Given the unique threat of gunmen who could also be suicide bombers, I expect we’ll eventually arrive at an equally creative solution. At the heart of it will be some kind of digital personality profile coupled with the IoT sensor net to identify the threats before they get to the venue and neutralize them. This same kind of technology based on Watson could undoubtedly better secure companies as well, but I think the best use for it will be to eventually make firms far more efficient as a result of assuring that employees are treated far more fairly and rewarded for the value they provide regardless of race or gender.
This goes a long way toward saying that a tool like Watson, which can accurately profile people en masse, may not be best utilized for sales but to protect the homeland and assure our own happiness and security. Something to noodle on this week.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+