Come Here, Watson. I Want a Cusp of Commercialization

February 28, 2013

For a moment, I thought I was reading a sitcom script. You judge for yourself. Navigate to “And Now, from IBM, It’s Chef Watson.” If you have an environmentally unfriendly version of the New York Times, you can find the script—sorry, real news story—on page B1 of the February 28, 2013, edition.

Let me highlight several phrases and sentences which I found amusing and somewhat troubling for those trying to convince people to license next generation search systems. Keep in mind that the point of the story is Watson, IBM’s next generation Jeopardy winning search system. The peripatetic Watson has done education, insurance, and cancer cracking. Now, Watson and its formidable technical amalgamation of open source and proprietary code is prepping for the Food Network.

IBM Watson’s is hunting for revenues and finding publicity. Can a $100 billion dollar entity find money in search, content processing, and analytics with a silicon Watson? Someday perhaps.

Here are the items I noted, highlighted in dark red and bold to make the words easy to spot:

First, this phrase, “…tries to expand its [IBM’s] artificial intelligence technology and turn turn Watson into something that actually makes commercial sense.” Reading this statement in the context of Hewlett Packard’s interesting commercial activities related to the write down of the spectacular $11 billion purchase of Autonomy is ripe with irony, probably unintentional too.

Second,  I found the phrase “on the cusp of commercialization.” Interesting. The Jeopardy show aired in early 2011. A “cusp,” according to one of the online dictionaries is “A transitional point or time, as between two astrological signs.” Yep, I believe is astrology.

Third, how about “IBM has been building this business for years.” Ah, ambiguity. Big Data (whatever that is), artificial intelligence (whatever that is), and search (whatever that is). I thought IBM bought Vivisimo to do Big Data, and IBM owns Cognos, SPSS, and other outfits who have these types of functionalities.,

Fourth, “IBM Watson’s projects are not yet big money makers.” I would agree. Other than Google’s selling ads via search, exactly which search and content processing vendor is make “big money”? IBM is a $100 billion outfit and it seems to be moving slowly. I think this type of progress speaks loudly but maybe not as loudly as a high profile PR campaign.

Fifth, “Watson has been able to deliver predictive analytics.” Okay, if that were true, why haven’t outfits like giant pharmaceutical companies licensed the technology and sought an exclusive license for the Watson technology? Maybe Watson is suggestive and not yet able to deliver what information sensitive companies really need in a consistent manner at a reasonable cost with modest human resources. IBM is a $100 billion outfit and it seems to be struggling to deliver on the promise of the buzzwords like “predictive analytics” (whatever that means).


See Is this document a news story or a marketing brochure?

Sixth, how about this application of smart software: “Watson’s assignment has been to come up with recipes that are both novel and taste good.” One of the concoctions Watson produced was “Pretty good.” Yummy. My mother’s cooking was pretty good but she was no Julia Child, who was allegedly doing government work. I think she dropped a chicken on air, picked it up, and plopped it in a pot. Whatever works, not PR, just human agility which is better than pretty good in my cook book.

Sounds like a good summary of the best possible case for next generation technology from IBM and outfits like Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Oracle—pretty good. But is pretty good enough to build a business to earn back the massive sums spent trying to make search work?

Google has figured it out. Use fancy math to sell ads. Leave the buzzwords to the folks who are looking for a revenue stream and a slot on a futurist conference panel. As one of Johnny Cash’s guitar players said when asked why he played the same chords on every song and other guitarists like Glen Campbell were far more creative. the Cash band member said, “They are huntin’. I done found it.” IBM-type outfits are huntin’. Google done found it. Revenue from smart search I mean.

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2013


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