IBM Watson Marketing Breakthrough: Cognitive Solutioning

February 19, 2018

I don’t pay much attention to IBM Watson. I admit that for a while I found the wild and crazy marketing amusing. I do want to point to “If You Don’t Like What IBM Is Pitching, Blame Watson: It’s Generating Sales ‘Solutions’ Now.” The write up allegedly recycles some confidential IBM information. I pulled this item out for future reference:

Internal documents seen by The Register reveal the tech goliath has developed something it calls “cognitive solutioning,” to be deployed when Big Blue is asked to do a job that can’t easily be scoped from its service catalogue.

I solution, you solution, IBM solutions. See the noun works as a “verb.” Amazing.

I am not sure what this passage means, but I circled it in red. It seems to suggest yet another massive achievement by Watson:

One document, which explains “cognitive solutioning” to IBM’s staff, says Big Blue has big plans for the Watson-fuelled service in 2018 and expects it to soon enable “real-time co-creation of solutions with clients” and do so at such speed that IBM services gains an advantage over its rivals. A roadmap for the service calls for a “cognitive solutions designer” to be hard at work in the second half of 2018, fuelled by 10,000 knowledge base articles.

Doesn’t Microsoft have a knowledgebase with lots KB articles, some of which do nifty things with a mouse click. Imagine an IBM KB system operating on global banking installations. Mouth watering solutioning ahead.

Stephen E Arnold, February 19, 2018

IBM Releases Power9 AI and Machine Learning Chip

February 12, 2018

Make no mistake, the new AI processor from IBM has Watson written all over it—but it does move the software into new territory. We get a glimpse from the brief write-up, “IBM Has a New Chip for AI and Machine Learning” at IT Pro Portal. The new chip, dubbed Power9, is now available through IBM’s cloud portal and through third-party vendors and is built into the new AC9222 platform. (See here for a more detailed discussion of both Power9 and AC9222.) Writer Sead Fadilpaši? quotes market analyst Patrick Moorhead, who states:

Power9 is a chip which has a new systems architecture that is optimized for accelerators used in machine learning. Intel makes Xeon CPUs and Nervana accelerators and NVIDIA makes Tesla accelerators. IBM’s Power9 is literally the Swiss Army knife of ML acceleration as it supports an astronomical amount of IO and bandwidth, 10X of anything that’s out there today.

That is strong praise. Fadilpaši? also quotes IBM’s Brad McCredie, who observes:

Modern workloads are becoming accelerated and the Nvidia GPU is a common accelerator. We have seen this trend coming. We built a deep relationship with them and a partnership between the Power system and the GPU. We have a unique bus that runs between the processor and the GPU and has 10x peak bandwidth over competitive systems.

Will the Power9 live up to its expectations? We suspect IBM has reason to hope for success here.

Cynthia Murrell, February 12, 2018

IBM and Algorithmic Bias

January 25, 2018

I read “Unexplainable Algos? Get Off the Market, Says IBM Chief Ginni Rometty.” The idea is in line with Weapons of Math Destruction and the apparent interest in “black box” solutions. If you are old enough, you will remember the Autonomy IDOL system. It featured a “black box” which licensees used without the ability to alter how the system operated. You may also recall that the first Google Search Appliances locked users out as well. One installed the GSA and it just worked—at least, in theory.

This article includes information derived from the IBM content output for the World Economic Forum where it helps to have one’s own helicopter for transportation.

I noted this statement:

“When it comes to the new capabilities of artificial intelligence, we must be transparent about when and how it is being applied and about who trained it, with what data, and how,” the IBM chairman, president and CEO wrote.

I don’t want to be too picky but IBM owns the i2 Analyst Notebook system. If you are not familiar with this platform, it provides law enforcement and intelligence professionals with tools to organize, analyze, and marshal information for an investigation. As a former consultant to i2, I am not sure if the plumbing developed by i2 is public. In fact, IBM and Palantir jousted in court when IBM sued Palantir for improper use of its intellectual property; that is a fancy way of saying, “Palantir engineers tried to figure out how i2 worked.” The case settled out of court and many of the documents are sealed because no one party to the case wanted certain information exposed to bright sunlight.

IBM operates a number of cybersecurity services. One of these has the ability to intercept a voice call and map that call to email and other types of communications. The last time I received some information about this service I had to sign a bundle of documents. The idea, of course, is that much of the technology was, from my point of view, a “black box.”

So what?

The statement by IBM’s CEO is important because it is, in my opi9nion, hand waving. IBM deals in systems which are neither fully understood by some of the IBM experts selling these solutions, and some of the engineers who may know more about the inner working of secret or confidential systems and methods are not talking. An expert knows stuff others do not; therefore, why talk and devalue one’s expertise.

To sum up, talk about making math centric systems and procedures transparent is just noise. The number of people who can explain how systems which emerged from Cambridge University like Autonomy’s Neurolinguistic System or i2’s Analyst Notebook are in short supply.

How can one who does not understand explain how a complex system works. Black boxes exist to keep those which thumbs for fingers from breaking what works.

Talk doesn’t do much to deal with the algorithmic basics:

  1. Some mathematical procedures in wide use are not easily explained or reverse engineered; hence, the IBM charge that Palantir tried a short cut through the words to the cookie jar
  2. Most next generation systems are built on a handful of algorithms. I have identified 10 which I explain in my lectures about the flaws embedded in “smart” systems. Each of the most widely used algorithms can be manipulated in a number of ways. Some require humans to fiddle; other fiddle when receiving inputs from other systems.
  3. Explainable systems are based on rules. By definition, one assumes the rules work as the authors intended. News flash. Rule based systems can behave in unpredictable, often inexplicable ways. A fun example is for you, gentle reader, to try and get the default numbering system in Microsoft Word to perform consistently with regard to left justification of numbered lists.
  4. Chain a series of algorithms together in a work flow. Add real time data to update thresholds. Watch the outputs. Now explain what happened. Good luck with that.

I love IBM. Always marketing.

Stephen E Arnold, January 25, 2018

IBM Hits a Single after Years at Bat

January 20, 2018

IBM reported revenue growth. The company’s news release may have been subject to a staff cutback. Here’s the message I saw when I tried to read the official news release:


I wonder if IBM’s cloud business offers the stability and reliability of offerings from Amazon, Google, or Microsoft.

The Poughkeepsie Journal was happy. I learned:

On Thursday, IBM reported fourth-quarter 2017 total revenue of $22.5 billion, up 4 percent from $21.8 billion the same quarter in 2016.

Growth is good. Better than a loss. However, where did the growth originate? From Harrod’s Creek, mainframes took a deep breath, put those ageing legs in motion, and managed to get on base.


Strategic imperatives made a contribution, strike out king IBM Watson, which may be headed to the Louisville Bats, managed about three percent growth.

ZDNet observed:

IBM’s fourth quarter topped expectations and strategic imperative businesses were solid, but Big Blue’s annual revenue is down for the 7th consecutive year.

Back out money made from currency, and Big Blue’s fourth quarter sales were up one percent.

Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO, is quoted as saying:

IBM strengthened our position as the leading enterprise cloud provider and established IBM as the blockchain leader for business. Looking ahead, we are uniquely positioned to help clients use data and AI to build smarter businesses.

Presumably she did not have to access the company’s Web site for the quarterly news release.

The company’s shares went down. That’s confidence.

Stephen E Arnold, January 20, 2018

IBM Disputes Bain Claim

January 12, 2018

I don’t read the Poughkeepsie Journal very often. However, I made a delightful exception this morning. The story “IBM Disputes Report of Redeploying Staffers” reminded me of Robert X Cringely’s The Decline and Fall of IBM and its subsequent hoo-hah. My recollection is that IBM suggested that Mr. Cringely (whom I think of as X) was off base. I am not sure he was.

The Poughkeepsie article reported:

An IBM spokesman disputed an article reporting the company plans to reassign roughly 30 percent of Global Technology Services staffers through attrition this year.

A British online publication reported that Bain was likely to help IBM on its road to recovery.

IBM, according to the Poughkeepsie source, said:

“It’s not accurate,” said Clint Roswell, spokesman for IBM’s Global Technology Services business. He did not give specifics on what information was inaccurate. “The company did not make any announcement and we don’t comment on speculation,” Roswell said. He said IBM hires “many consultants, many of whom make recommendations. It’s as simple as that.”

Okay, where did the British publication’s story originate?

Another question: If IBM hires lots of consultants, why did this particular Bain report trigger a response in the estimable Poughkeepsie newspapers?

My hunch is that a kernel of truth resides in the British report and the IBM denial.

IBM is going to have to do some fancy dancing. Whether Bain, BCG, Booz, McKinsey, or another of the blue chip consulting firms get the job of fixing IBM, the system and method will lead to the same changes I described in “IBM Watson: Fresh Out of Correct Answers?

For those who have made it through advanced degree programs, the blue chip consulting firm charm schools, and the on the job training with Type A “experts”—the thought processes lead to:

  • Reassessment of internal financial data
  • Calculations to identify cost savings and money making opportunities
  • Ranking of units and their people
  • Reorganizations
  • Sales of certain business units
  • Embedding of consultants in place of existing managers
  • An effort to work directly with the Board of Directors

These types of changes are ones that people working for a company rarely make without the help of outside expertise.

Maybe IBM is on its way to sustainable revenues and impressive growth dusted with healthy profits?

On the other hand, IBM admits it works with lots of advisers. One of those outfits will get the job to fix IBM. The result will be the same sequence of actions identified in the dot points above.

The third quarter earning come out during the week of January 15, 2018. Has IBM returned to its glory days? If so, forget the consultants with repair kits. On the other hand, if the numbers are not exciting, maybe the Bainies or another blue chip outfit will be able to flip on the chain saw and do what has to be done. I think I can safely assert that asking Watson will not be Job One.

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2018

IBM Watson: Fresh Out of Correct Answers?

January 11, 2018

As a former laborer in the vineyard of a blue chip, bit time, only slightly misunderstood consulting firm, I know when a client throws in the towel.

I read allegedly accurate write up “Black & Blue: IBM Hires Bain to Cut Costs, Up Productivity.” Let’s assume that the story has the hiring of the Bainies 100 percent correct. (If you see me at one of the law enforcement and intelligence conferences at which I will be speaking in 2018, ask me about the Holiday Inn and Route 128 meetings from the late 1970s. That’s an interesting Bain anecdote in my opinion.)

The write up informed me:

IBM has indicated to senior Global Technology Services management that that a third of the global workforce will be “productively redeployed” in 2018 with tens of thousands of personnel “impacted”. Insiders told The Reg that Big Blue had hired consultant Bain & Company to help it plot a way forward for GTS, bringing in external business consultants despite spending $3.5bn to buy PWC in 2002


Let me share my view of what will happen:

  1. Hiring a big time, blue chip consulting firm will lead to upper management changes. I would not be surprised to see a Bainie become the shadow CEO of the company with other Bainies advising the Board of Directors. The reason? In order to book revenues, one moves up the food chain until the blue chip outfit is at the top of the heap and has a way to punch the cash register keys.
  2. Lots of people will lose their jobs. The logic is brutal. If your unit is not making money or hitting its targets, you are part of the problem. The easiest way to solve the problem is to show the underperformers the door with a friendly “find you future elsewhere, you lucky devil.”
  3. Divestitures will play a role in the remediation effort. If the incumbent management cannot turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, polish it up, whip out some nifty future value diagrams, and sell what Boston Consulting folks once called “dogs.” Bain, like the Boozer, borrowed the BCG quadrant thing, and it will play a part in the Bain solutions.
  4. The stock price will go up. Hey, Bain is like magic dust. Those buy backs should have been used to generate new, sustainable revenue. Now with the Bainies reanalyzing the data, some Wall Street MBAs will see gold in them thar terminations, sell offs, and reorganizations.

Worth watching. If Bain is not on board, at some point another blue chip outfit will like McKinsey & Company could implement the same game plan.

In short, IBM is over. I suppose I could ask IBM Watson, but why bother? Time might be better spent trying to land a top job at Big Blue. Are you on Bain’s radar?

Stephen E Arnold, January 11, 2018

Two Senior Citizens Go Steady: IBM and British Telecom Hug in the Cloud

January 10, 2018

I read “BT Offers businesses Direct Access to IBM Cloud Services.” That sounds like an interesting idea. However, BT (the new version of British Telecom) has joined hands with Amazon’s cloud as well. See this Telecompaper item, please.

These tie ups are interesting.

When I learned of BT’s partnering, I thought of an image which I saw on a Knoxville, Tennessee, TV news program. I dug through Bing and located the story “Couple Renews Vows in Nursing Home after 70 Years of Marriage” and this image:

Image result for nursing home marriages

British Telecom open for business in maybe as far back as 1880, depending on how one interprets the history of the British post office. IBM, of course, flipped on its lights in 1911.

The idea that those with some life experience find partnering rewarding underscores the essence of humanity.

Will the going steady evolve into significant, sustainable new revenues?

Where there is a will there is a way. I am tempted to state boldly, “Let’s ask Watson.” But I think I will go with Amazon’s Alexa which will be installed in some Lexus automobiles.

But age has its virtues. A happy quack to WVLT in Knoxville. No pix of the new couple (BT and IBM) were available to me. Darn.

Stephen E Arnold, January 10, 2018

IBM Socrates Wins 2017 Semantic Web Challenge

January 10, 2018

We learn from the press release “Elsevier Announces the Winner of the 2017 Semantic Web Challenge,” posted at PRNewswire, that IBM has taken the top prize in the 2017 Semantic Web Challenge world cup with its AI project, Socrates. The outfit sponsoring the competition is the number one sci-tech publisher, Elsevier. We assume IBM will be happy with another Jeopardy-type win.

Knowledge graphs were the focus of this year’s challenge, and a baseline representing current progress in the field was established. The judges found that Socrates skillfully wielded natural language processing and deep learning to find and check information across multiple web sources. About this particular challenge, the write-up specifies:

This year, the SWC adjusted the annual format in order to measure and evaluate targeted and sustainable progress in this field. In 2017, competing teams were asked to perform two important knowledge engineering tasks on the web: fact extraction (knowledge graph population) [and] fact checking (knowledge graph validation). Teams were free to use any arbitrary web sources as input, and an open set of training data was provided for them to learn from. A closed dataset of facts, unknown to the teams, served as the ground truth to benchmark how well they did. The evaluation and benchmarking platform for the 2017 SWC is based on the GERBIL framework and powered by the HOBBIT project. Teams were measured on a very clear definition of precision and recall, and their performance on both tasks was tracked on a leader board. All data and systems were shared according to the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable).

The Semantic Web Challenge has been going on since 2003, organized in cooperation with the Semantic Web Science Association.

Cynthia Murrell, January 10, 2018

Watson and CDC Research Blockchain

December 29, 2017

Oh, Watson!  What will IBM have you do next?  Apparently, you will team up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research blockchain benefits.  The details about Watson’s newest career are detailed in Fast Company’s article, “IBM Watson Health Team With the CDC To Research Blockchain.”  Teaming up with the CDC is an extension of the work IBM Watson is already doing with the Food and Drug Administration by exploring owned-mediated data exchange with blockchain.

IBM chief science officer Shahram Ebadollahi explained that the research with the CDC and FDA with lead to blockchain adoption at the federal government level.  By using blockchain, the CDC hopes to discover new ways to use data and expedite federal reactions to health threats.

Blockchain is a very new technology developed to handle sensitive data and cryptocurrency transactions.  It is used for applications that require high levels of security.  Ebadollahi said:

 ‘Blockchain is very useful when there are so many actors in the system,’ Ebadollahi said. ‘It enables the ecosystem of data in healthcare to have more fluidity, and AI allows us to extract insights from the data. Everybody talks about Big Data in healthcare but I think the more important thing is Long Data.’

One possible result is that consumers will purchase a personal health care system like a home security system.  Blockchain could potentially offer a new level of security that everyone from patients to physicians is comfortable with.

Blockchain is basically big data, except it is a more specific data type.  The applications are the same and it will revolutionize the world just like big data.

Whitney Grace, December 29, 2017

IBM Watson: Now the Personal Assistant You Cannot Harass

December 28, 2017

I miss those wonky and expensive IBM Watson ad campaigns. However, Watson has not gone away. Watson is now available as the IBM Watson Assistant. You will need to be a “developer”, but I would wager that IBM wants you to be working at a Fortune 50 company and looking for a way to spend lots of money for IBM services. You can do magic with the program. Ready to role? Read the legal “rules” here, not the info about hand crafting “rules” to make the system appear so darned helpful. Oh, one point about rule based systems. These gems have to be thought up, coded, tested, and maintained. Does that sound time consuming? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Artificial intelligence is just so “artificial.” What happens if I haven’t coded my unharassable assistant for a specific task like figuring out how to deanonymize i2p hexchat sessions? Well, you get the idea: The personal assistant is harassing me.

Stephen E Arnold, December 28, 2017

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