IBM Watson Studio: Watson, Will It Generate Big Revenue?

May 22, 2019

Despite its troubles, Watson lives on. ZDNet reports, “IBM Updates Watson Studio.” The AI-model-building platform relies on Watson’s famous machine learning technology and can deploy its models to either onsite data centers or in the cloud. Writer Stephanie Condon specifies:

“Watson Studio 2.0 includes a range of new features, starting with data preparation and exploration. For data exploration, IBM is adding 43 data connectors like Dropbox, Salesforce, Tableau and Looker. It’s also adding an Asset Browser experience to navigate through Schemas, Tables and Objects. For refining data, there are new tools for previewing and visualizing data. For running analytics where your data lives and to leverage existing compute, IBM has enhanced Watson Studio’s integrations with Hadoop Distributions (CDH and HDP). Watson Studio 2.0 also now includes built-in batch and evaluation job management for Python/R scripts, SPSS streams and Data Refinery Flows. There’s a new collaborative interface, similar to Slack, to the Jupyter Notebook integration. Version 2.0 also lets scientists import open source packages or libraries.”

We’re also told support for your major GIT frameworks: Github, Github enterprise, Bitbucket and Bitbucket Server. This release is in line with IBM’s goal, stated earlier this year, of making all of its Watson tech available to multiple cloud platforms. These applications, dev tools, and models now make their home under the IBM Cloud Private for Data. Back to the question in the headline. The answer, stakeholders hope, is “Yes.” For those with less optimism, the answer may be, “Probably not.”

Cynthia Murrell, May 22, 2019

IBM Hyperledger: More Than a Blockchain or Less?

May 17, 2019

Though the IBM-backed open-source project Hyperledger has been prominent on the blockchain scene since 2016, The Next Web declares, “IBM’s Hyperledger Isn’t a Real Blockchain—Here’s Why.” Kadena president, and writer, Stuart Popejoy tells us:

“A blockchain is a decentralized and distributed database, an immutable ledger of events or transactions where truth is determined by a consensus mechanism — such as participants voting to agree on what gets written — so that no central authority arbitrates what is true. IBM’s definition of blockchain captures the distributed and immutable elements of blockchain but conveniently leaves out decentralized consensus — that’s because IBM Hyperledger Fabric doesn’t require a true consensus mechanism at all.

We noted this statement as well:

“Instead, it suggests using an ‘ordering service’ called Kafka, but without enforced, democratized, cryptographically-secure voting between participants, you can’t really prove whether an agent tampers with the ledger. In effect, IBM’s ‘blockchain’ is nothing more than a glorified time-stamped list of entries. IBM’s architecture exposes numerous potential vulnerabilities that require a very small amount of malicious coordination. For instance, IBM introduces public-key cryptography ‘inside the network’ with validator signatures, which fundamentally invalidates the proven security model of Bitcoin and other real blockchains, where the network can never intermediate a user’s externally-provided public key signature.”

Then there are IBM’s approaches to architecture, security flaws, and smart contracts to consider, as well as misleading performance numbers. See the article for details on each of those criticisms. Popejoy concludes with the prediction that better blockchains are bound to be developed, alongside a more positive approach to technology in general, across society.

Cynthia Murrell, May 17, 2019

IBM: Watson, Are the Shrimp Ready to Eat?

May 8, 2019

I wish I could say I was making up the information in “IBM Is Putting Sustainable Shrimp on the Blockchain.” The idea is a mostly respectable one: Save the planet and help provide useful information about food. But shrimp on the barbeque? Yes, IBM.

The write up explains:

The Sustainable Shrimp Partnership (SSP) yesterday announced that its joined IBM‘s Food Trust ecosystem which claims to use blockchain to provide greater transparency over where your food comes from. The SSP says it will be using the IBM blockchain to track the journey of Ecuadorian farmed shrimp from birth to barbecue.

Are the data in the blockchain accurate? Not sure.

The French cheese outfit Carrefour has cheese on the blockchain. Are those data accurate? Mais oui. Carrefour is French.

Stephen E Arnold, May 8, 2019

Thomson Reuters: Whither Palantir Technologies

May 6, 2019

When I was working on a profile of Palantir Technologies for a client a couple of years ago, I came across a reference to Thomson Reuters’ use of Palantir Technologies smart system. News of the deal surfaced in a 2010 news release issued on Market Wired, but like many documents in the “new” approach to Web indexing, the content is a goner.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I recall that the application was called QA Studio. The idea obviously was to allow a person to ask a question using the “intuitive user interface” which the TR and Palantir team created to generate revenue magic. The goal was to swat the pesky FactSet and Bloomberg offerings as well as the legion of wanna-be analytics vendors chasing the Wall Street wizards.

Here’s a document form my files showing a bit of the PR lingo and the interface to the TR Palantir service:


I am not sure what happened to this product nor the relationship with the Palantir outfit.

I assume that TR wants more smart software, not just software which creates more work for the already overburdened MBAs planning the future of the economic world.

One of the DarkCyber researchers spotted this news release, which may suggest that TR is looking to the developer of OS/2 (once used by TR as I recall) for smart software: “IBM, Thomson Reuters Introduce Powerful New AI and Data Combination to Simplify How Financial Institutions Tackle Regulatory Compliance Challenges.”

The news release informed me that:

IBM and Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence will now offer financial institutions access to a RegTech solution delivered from the IBM Cloud that features real-time financial services data from thousands of content sources. Backed by the power of AI and domain knowledge of Promontory Financial Group, the collaboration will enable risk and compliance professionals to keep pace with regulatory changes, manage risk and reduce the overall cost of compliance.

I learned:

Thomson Reuters and IBM have been collaborating on AI and data intelligence since 2015, bringing together expertise and technology to solve industry-specific problems in areas such as healthcare and data privacy. Today’s announcement represents another step forward in helping businesses combat their most pressing regulatory challenges.

The most interesting word in the news release is “holistic.” I haven’t encountered that since “synergy” became a thing. Here’s what the TR IBM news release offered:

Featuring an updated user experience to allow for increased engagement, IBM OpenPages with Watson 8.0 transforms the way risk and compliance professionals work. By providing a holistic view of risk and regulatory responsibilities, OpenPages helps compliance professionals actively participate in risk management as a part of their day-to-day activity. In addition to integrating Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence, IBM OpenPages with Watson incorporates the expertise of Promontory Financial Group to help users of OpenPages create libraries of relevant regulatory requirements, map them to their internal framework and evaluate their impact to the business.

Yep, OpenPages. What is this? Well, it is Watson, but that doesn’t help me. Watson is more of a combo consulting-licensing thing. In this implementation, OpenPages reduces risk and makes “governance” better with AI and advanced analytics.

Analytics? That was the purpose of Palantir Technologies’ solution.

Let’s step back. What is the news release saying? These thoughts zoomed through my now confused brain:

  • TR licensed Palantir’s system which delivers some of the most advanced analytics offered based on my understanding of the platform. Either TR can’t make Palantir do what TR wants to generate revenue or Palantir’s technology is falling below the TR standard for excellence.
  • TR needs a partner which can generate commercial sales. IBM is supposed to be a sales powerhouse, but IBM’s financial performance has been dicey for years. Palantir, therefore, may be underperforming, and IBM’s approach is better. What?
  • IBM’s Watson TR solution works better than IBM’s forays into medicine, enterprise search, cloud technology for certain government entities, and a handful of other market sectors. What?

To sum up, I am not sure which company is the winner in this TR IBM deal? One hypothesis is that both TR and IBM hope to pull a revenue bunny from the magic hat worn by ageing companies.

The unintentional cold shoulder to Palantir may not be a signal about that firm. But with IPO talk circulating in some circles, Palantir certainly wants outfits like TR to emit positive vibes.

Interesting stuff this analytics game. I suppose one must take a “holistic” view. Will there be “synergy” too?

Stephen E Arnold, May 6, 2018

Cognos: Now Transforming Business After Only 50 Years

May 3, 2019

It is 1969, and Cognos officially opened for business. That was a half century ago. Over the years, Cognos in its 50 years of “transformation” has absorbed a number of other technologies. Anyone remember Databeacon, the mid market analytics outfit. Cognos strikes me as an umbrella brand. According to CIO’s article “5 Ways IBM Cognos Analytics Is Transforming Business,” IBM’s Cognos Analytics has integrated the artificial intelligence capabilities of IBM Watson Analytics.

Okay, 50 years, much thrashing, and IBM is not on a part with the zippier outfits like DataRobot’s Eureqa. The idea of transforming is interesting, but I am not sure I buy into what looks to me like an example IBM marketing and PR. Sorry, CIO. I am just as suspicious as my neighbors here in Harrod’s Creek.

Here are the transforming things:

  1. Maximizing charitable donations (No, I am not kidding.)
  2. Optimizing retail operations with purchasing analytics. (What about Amazon’s data for merchants?)
  3. Leveraging data to maximize fan engagement. (No, I am not making this up.)
  4. Predicting audience viewing preferences.
  5. Deploying data science to keep salmon healthy. (Watson may not be a winner in the cancer thing, but it appears to work on fish.)

After 50 years, the write up points to these examples or use cases as transformational. Amazing.

Eureka may not capture what Cognos with Watson can deliver. The experience, however, could cause DataRobot’s phone to ring.

PS. What’s even more amazing, one of the DarkCyber team had to register to read what is marketing collateral. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, May 3, 2019

IBM Revenue by Country

May 1, 2019

DarkCyber spotted an interesting graph generated by DazeInfo. “IBM Revenue by Country” illustrates some of the economic consequences of IBM’s billion dollar bets. First, the US accounted for 37 percent of IBM’s revenue. Surprisingly, Japan generated about 11 percent of the company’s 2018 revenue. In 2004 IBM’s revenue from Japan amount to $12.3 billion. At the end of 2018, revenue from Japan was about $8.5 billion. International revenue in the last three years is also stagnant or declining. Watson, what can be done to remediate these declines? Watson, Watson, are you there? Can you hear me? Are you in a meeting with James Holzhauer, the professional sports gambler, who is winning on Jeopardy. You won once too. Do you remember Charles Van Doren?

Stephen E Arnold,  May 1, 2019

IBM: Drugs, Web Pages, and Watson

April 22, 2019

I read “Watson For Drug Discovery”. I don’t pay much attention to IBM’s assertions about its IBM Watson technology. The Jeopardy thing, the HRBlock thing, and the froth whipped up about smart software bored me.

This story was a bit different because, if it is accurate, it reveals a lack of coordination within a company which once was reasonably well organized. I worked on indexing the content of the IBM technical libraries and oversaw the leasing of certain data sets to Big Blue for a number of years. That IBM — despite the J1, J2, and J3 charging mechanism — was a good customer and probably could have made New York commuter trains run on time. (Well, maybe not.)

The Science Magazine story focuses on IBM pulling out of selling Watson to invent drugs. I mean if anyone took a look at the recipes Watson cooked up and memorialized in the IBM cook book, drugs seemed to be a stretch. Would you like tamarind for your cancer treatment? No, possibly another spice?

The factoid I noted in the article is that even though the drug thing is history, IBM keeps or kept its Web pages touting the Watson thing. I snapped this screen shot at 641 am US Eastern time on April 22, 2019. Here it is:


The Science Magazine write up (which I assume is not channeling its inner Saturday Night Live) states:

The idea was that it [Watson} would go ripping through the medical literature, genomics databases, and your in-house data collection, finding correlations and clues that humans had missed. There’s nothing wrong with that as an aspirational goal. In fact, that’s what people eventually expect out of machine learning approaches, but a key word in that sentence is “eventually”. IBM, though, specifically sold the system as being ready to use for target identification, pathway elucidation, prediction of gene and protein function and regulation, drug repurposing, and so on. And it just wasn’t ready for those challenges, especially as early as they were announcing that they were.

Failure I understand. The inability to manage the Web site is a bit like screwing up Job Control Language instructions. When I worked in the university computer lab, that was a minimum wage student job, dead easy, and only required basic organizational and coordination skills.

IBM seems to have lost something just as it did when it allegedly fired old timers to become the “new” IBM. Maybe the old IBM has something today’s IBM lacks?

Stephen E Arnold, April 22, 2019

IEEE Spectrum Embraces Business Analysis: IBM Watson and Health

April 8, 2019

I spotted a link to “How IBM Watson Overpromised and Under delivered on AI Healthcare.” I read the article and found it reasonably balanced. What surprised me was the fact that the editors of IEEE Spectrum believed that this particularly collection of information should be published for the magazine’s and online audience. My suspicion is that IBM was promoting its technology in a manner that was egregious. IEEE was reminding its readers about veering from technical facts into the wild and crazy world of toothpaste and dandruff shampoo marketing. Then I realized the IEEE Spectrum was explaining an example digital snake oil:


I circled in Big Blue marker this passage:

Outside of corporate headquarters, however, IBM has discovered that its powerful technology is no match for the messy reality of today’s health care system. And in trying to apply Watson to cancer treatment, one of medicine’s biggest challenges, IBM encountered a fundamental mismatch between the way machines learn and the way doctors work.

Translation: Reality is different from a demo. When demos are built on software which has proven problematic for decades, one wonders how the square peg in the round hole gets funded.

I circled this statement:

… Even today’s best AI struggles to make sense of complex medical information. And encoding a human doctor’s expertise in software turns out to be a very tricky proposition. IBM has learned these painful lessons in the marketplace, as the world watched. While the company isn’t giving up on its moon shot, its launch failures have shown technologists and physicians alike just how difficult it is to build an AI doctor.

IEEE Spectrum does not use the word “desperation” but it applies. The reality, from my point of view, is that finding information and answering questions is difficult. Google pulls off a version of question answering by hooking relevance to behavior and possibly relevant advertisements. Precision and recall are not part of Google or other commercial search vendors’ vocabulary today.

But answering questions doesn’t work all that well today. Sorry Google.

“Regular” search— particularly search based on open source software, some home brew code, and acquired technology — is difficult to make work across different types of content and use cases. The dust up between HP and Autonomy is one example of what happens when “logical” explanations don’t apply to search and retrieval. There are other examples too. Just ask a Fast Search & Transfer executive who skirted serious jail time.

IEEE Spectrum’s article drives home failure this way:

In a final blow to the dream of an AI super doctor, researchers realized that Watson can’t compare a new patient with the universe of cancer patients who have come before to discover hidden patterns.

Translation: Watson doesn’t work. But the article finds some sparkles in the mine tailings. Note: A few sparkles.

The print version of  the article is titled, “Watson, Heal Thyself.”

The title should be: “IBM: Stick with What Works”. The mainframes are okay. The i2 and Cybertap technology is pretty good.

The Watson thing. Wow, pretty crazy expensive and sufficiently off the rails to motivate IEEE Spectrum to embrace the baloney making methods of the Harvard Business Review.

My take on the essay? IEEE Spectrum is saying, “EEs, don’t do this hyperbole charged approach when pushing your technology toys.” News flash: The EEs will ignore this plea when big money is on the table.

Stephen E Arnold, April 8, 2019

IBM and Oldsters

March 29, 2019

I can hear the question posed to IBM Watson now, “Watson, is it okay to fire older employees in order the make room for younger, less expensive workers?”

I even can anticipate the IBM Watson answer, “Yes.”

IBM Watson is smart software, but it does not do as well providing human resource outputs as it does with generating recipes which require tamarind.

How do I know?

I read “IBM Sued By Former Employees For Alleged Illegal Firing.” I learned from the article:

IBM is being sued by a group of its former employees for allegedly laying them off for their age.

The write up added what seems obvious to a human like me but probably a nuance unnoticed by IBM’s Watson:

The lawyers of the complainants added that their main case against IBM would be a major age-discrimination lawsuit. They said that top executives of the company “took the calculated risk of openly breaking the law” in order to cover up substantial, targeted layoffs of its older workers.

IBM Watson may need a bit more training, particularly information related to employment laws and regulations.

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2019

RedMonk and Its Assessment of IBM as an Open Source Leader

March 24, 2019

I read “The RedMonk Programming Language Rankings: January 2019.” The analysis was interesting and contained one remarkable assertion and one probably understandable omission. The guts of the report boiled down, in my opinion, to a reminder to job hunters. If you want to increase your chances of getting hired, know:

1 JavaScript
2 Java
3 Python
5 C#

But the surprising statement in the write up was this one:

IBM remains at the forefront of open source innovation.

Now the omission. If IBM is in the forefront, where is Amazon? The company has made an effort to support most of the widely used open source software. Plus, the company appears to be taking tactical steps to close or capture open source.

From my vantage point, Amazon is taking a more “innovative” approach to open source. Granted Amazon’s “approach” may be a milestone in the company’s enhanced walled garden approach to core software systems. IBM’s approach seems little more than Big Blue’s attempt to give back and convince the open source community that it is not the IBM of its mainframe heritage.

Stephen E Arnold, March 24, 2019

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