Two large firms are working furiously to create true artificial intelligence: IBM and Google. I think, over time, we’ll likely lose the artificial part of this and replace it with machine intelligence because something is either smart or it isn’t, and something that is artificially smart wouldn’t be smart. IBM briefed a bunch of us this week on the next steps for Watson, and the system is clearly becoming more and more intelligent.
The implementation of this technology will fundamentally change how we perceive and interact with the world and will have a much better, seemingly sudden, impact on our lives. Currently, IBM has 30 percent of its massive R&D budget focused in this area, largely because it recognized that whoever gets this to mass market first and can sustain the lead will own the next large system technology wave and will have significant advantages in other emerging areas like robotics, self-driving/flying vehicles and virtual reality.
Let’s look at some planned near- and far-term efforts from the company.
Watson Jr. Will Kick Siri’s Butt
One of the obvious uses for a cloud-based Watson service is something IBM has tagged Watson Jr. If you liked Siri, which is really artificial intellect because she seems intelligent but isn’t, wait until you meet Watson Jr. Watson Jr. would better understand you and the questions you ask and will not only provide the answer you thought you wanted, but also the one you needed. For instance, if you ask Siri where the nearest theater is playing a new movie, you are reasonably certain to get the correct answer. Watson Jr. could not only give that answer but suggest (because it knows what you like) an alternative that you’d enjoy more, recommend you invite a friend and, with your permission, send that friend a note. Watson would also likely ping you after the movie and empathetically talk to you about the experience so you could share your perspectives and it could learn better what you liked, thus systematically improving its interaction over time. Siri just provides answers to what you specifically asked. Watson Jr. would actually care that you got the best experience possible and might even recommend that you take your antacid before going in and remind you that your time will be tight after, assuring you to make your next appointment.
I have little doubt that people would begin to treat Watson Jr. like a friend over time, because it could empathize and would actually “care” about them.
Watson Jr., over time, would gain a lot of information on you and could use that information to anticipate problems and warn against mistakes. For instance, if you were shopping for a new car, it might suggest buying from dealerships that work better with people of your personality type. Or maybe suggest that you use a broker because you stress out when entering negotiations. It would anticipate and provide lists of key things to look for on the car you’d want and volunteer lists of things to consider that you might not like. It would proactively estimate what the price for the car should be and remind you about the other fees that your lust for the new ride may prevent you from seeing.
Imagine this same process in a business or relationship decision. You’d make far fewer errors in both. Now imagine it in a sales situation—Watson Jr. would know and could provide critical information on the customers, suggest and even demonstrate a sales approach that would work, and then automatically set ideal call back times and approaches to optimize the sales process. It would also help you choose the opportunities that are real over those that looked real but weren’t, which would help sales reps navigate through the massive number of passive/aggressive customers.
Finally, it should be able to determine the customers, both existing and potential, that aren’t worth the effort and those that are worth the effort due to historical vendor loyalty and ease of doing business. And it could do the same thing for buyers.
Future Watson: The Ability to Reason
This type of intelligence will likely be the biggest breakthrough over the next decade or so. This step allows Watson to navigate through structured and unstructured data to answer both actual questions and anticipated questions in order to be able to reason. By reason, I mean being able to see gaps in patterns and infer connections in order to generate answers to questions that have not before been answered. Imagine a digital assistant working as a near peer with scientists, attempting to create something that doesn’t yet exist. This future Watson could more quickly see the overall patterns, rapidly emulate experiments, and then suggest directions that might have taken the researchers years to discover or that may have never been discovered.
At this stage, Watson truly becomes intelligent and approaches autonomous capabilities. Any firm not having access to this capability would be woefully behind competitors that did.
Wrapping Up: Smarter Us
Part of the power with Watson is the ability to make us smarter in partnership with the system. Tied to our lives, it would point to areas where we need development and help with that development. It would help us meet people who we would enjoy more throughout our lives, and help us identify and stop doing things that cause us harm. It would help us find new opportunities that we’d enjoy and it would increasingly become a critical and unique companion, entering our lives at younger and younger ages.
Watson is a huge gamble by IBM, but it is one that could truly change the world as we know it.