IBM Watson: Mixed Signals from the Real World and IBM Marketers

February 21, 2017

I read a write up which might be fake news for all I know. I live in rural Kentucky and the doings of folks in a big city like Houston are mysterious and far away. Out local doctor squeezes in humans after dealing with race horses and dogs.

I read in Forbes, the capitalist tool, this story: “MD Anderson Benches IBM Watson In Setback For Artificial Intelligence In Medicine.”

The main idea is easy to grasp, even for folks like me sitting near the wood stove in Harrod’s Creek. As I understand it, IBM Watson was supposed to be helping the doctors at the número uno cancer treatment center in their quest to eradicate cancer. I assume the idea was to make more time available to physicians and other health care givers because IBM Watson would have had answers about patient treatment. IBM Watson knew the Jeopardy answers, right. Dealing with cancer-related questions seems to me to be easier: More narrow domain, more consistent terminology, smart people, etc etc.

The possibly fake news write up says:

The partnership between IBM and one of the world’s top cancer research institutions is falling apart. The project is on hold, MD Anderson confirms, and has been since late last year. MD Anderson is actively requesting bids from other contractors who might replace IBM in future efforts. And a scathing report from auditors at the University of Texas says the project cost MD Anderson more than $62 million and yet did not meet its goals.

But there is good news, or at least face saving news. I like this statement in the capitalist tool:

The report, however, states: “Results stated herein should not be interpreted as an opinion on the scientific basis or functional capabilities of the system in its current state.”

The door is not locked. Perhaps IBM Watson will once again be allowed to dine in the MD Anderson cafeteria and spark the pixels on the MD Anderson computing devices. Every smart software cloud may have a silver lining. Right?

But the project seems to be on “hold.” If the news is fake, then the project is full steam ahead, but I think the truth is closer to something like this: The users found the system like other smart software. Sort of helpful sometimes. At other times, the smart software was adding work, time, and frustration to an already high pressure, high stakes environment.

The capitalist tool ventures this observation:

The disclosure comes at an uncomfortable moment for IBM. Tomorrow, the company’s chief executive, Ginni Rometty, will make a presentation to a giant health information technology conference detailing the progress Watson has made in health care, and announcing the launch of new products for managing medical images and making sure hospitals deliver value for the money, as well as new partnerships with healthcare systems. The end of the MD Anderson collaboration looks bad.

I have zero idea what giant conference is held “tomorrow.” But I did notice this write up, which may be a coincidence: “IBM Sees Watson As a Primary Care Provider’s Assistant.” This seems similar to what IBM Watson was going to do at the MD Anderson cancer center. The write up asserts:

IBM is prepping Watson to work alongside primary care physicians and streamline processes. The company also added features to its Watson-based health cloud services.

The IBM Watson system has been enhanced too. The write up reports:

That Watson-primary care provider connection is being rolled out in Central New York in a six-county region and more than 2,000 providers. Meanwhile, Atrius Health, based in Massachusetts, will embed IBM’s cognitive computing tools inside its electronic medical records workflow for primary care providers.

This sounds good. Perhaps this is the “real” IBM Watson news. Rapid adoption and new capabilities make IBM Watson a must have in the smart health care providers arsenal of disease fighting weapons.

But there is that MD Anderson situation.

What do I make of these apparently contradictory write ups, which I assume are fake news, of course?

  1. IBM Watson, like other end user smart software systems, is a disappointment in actual use. Humans have to learn how to use the system and then take time to figure out which of the outputs are the ones that are likely to be useful in a particular patient’s case. Instead of saving time, the smart software adds tasks to already stretched professionals.
  2. The marketing and sales pressure is great. As a result, the marketers’ explanations may not match up with the engineering realities of a search-based system. When the marketers have left the building, the users learn the reality. After normal bureaucratic jabbering, the users’ dissatisfaction become too much for administrators to deal with. Hasta la vista, Sr. Watson.
  3. IBM, like other outfits betting on smart software, continue to repeat the cycle of belief, hyperbolic marketing, and learning about the costs and problems the smart system triggers. So why did Fast Search & Transfer’s run to fame fall off a cliff? Why is Hewlett Packard annoyed with Autonomy Software? Why did Entopia fail? Why is Lexmark’s new owners trying to exit the search with smart software business? Answer: Hope does not make an end user facing smart system generate sustainable revenues.

Because this IBM Watson news is fake. Why worry? Smart software will lift IBM to heights not experienced since the mainframe was the go to solution to computing needs. If you have a z series, you can run IBM Watson on it. Now that’s something I wish I could experience. My hunch is that none of the docs at MD Anderson will buy a z series and load up Watson because it is so darned useful. Maybe that is the “real” reality?

How does IBM get this Watson thing under control and generating money and producing happy customers? Let’s ask Watson? On the other hand, I don’t think the outputs will be too helpful.

Stephen E Arnold, February 21, 2017

Lucidworks (Really?) Channels Exalead Circa 2006

February 16, 2017

I know that many search wizards have short memories. If the mavens have long memories, the thought process may be that no one remembers the past. Yo, gentle reader, I do. Exalead, a search and retrieval system, spawned by a former member of the AltaVista team is now part of Dassault, the French super engineering firm. At one time, clear eyed marketers at Exalead decided that the best way to sell licenses to Exalead’s pretty good search system was to position the system as the enabler of search based applications. One of the Dassault Exalead wizards wrote a book about this. The book appeared in 2011 as “Search Based Applications: At the Confluence of Search and Database Technologies” by Dr. David Grefenstette and Laura Wilbur.

Imagine my surprise when I read “Lucidworks Fusion 3 Enables Teams to Build Enterprise Search Apps Easier and Faster.” The write up explains:

Fusion 3 provides out-of-the-box capabilities for teams seeking to build robust enterprise-level search applications. With greater operational simplicity, IT personnel can now leapfrog months ahead in the development cycle, which allows them to focus on customizing applications to meet unique business needs. Shortening the development cycle even more, a streamlined guided setup feature makes Fusion 3 accessible to non-technical teams who can quickly build search applications that meet high user expectations.

There you go. A decade after the Exalead push for search based applications, Lucidworks (really?) has recycled another vendor’s concept. Note that the phrase “search based applications” was not new to Exalead. I recall hearing it used by one of Personal Library Software’s marketers decades earlier.

Will Lucidworks (really?) marketing pitch generate revenue? Exalead used its positioning to sell itself to Dassault in 2009? Will Lucidworks (really?) find a buyer? There are a number of open source integrators floating around.

More than recycled plastic is going to be needed to spark a renaissance in vendors piggybacking on the free and open source Lucene and Solr software in my opinion.

Then there is search history, but that’s no longer important or even interesting. This type of search marketing recycling amuses me, and I was an adviser to Exalead and one of the reviewers of the Search Based Applications book.

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2017

Creating a Product Taxonomy Just Got a Whole Lot Easier

February 16, 2017

The article on PRWeb titled WAND, Inc. Announces the Launch of the WAND eCommerce Taxonomy Portal discusses the breakthrough in classification technology from WAND. WAND Inc. is a Denver-based company that has been around since 1938 and holds a tight grip on industry vertical taxonomies, business taxonomies, and specialty domain taxonomies.

Users of the WAND eCommerce Taxonomy Portal can select from a content library of more than 44,000 hierarchical categories, 70,000 attributes, and over 260,000 attribute values to jump-start a taxonomy. Tools to customize the category hierarchy and attribute templates are simple to use and the pre-defined content can be augmented with new categories and attributes to efficiently build a custom taxonomy. The resulting custom product taxonomy can be exported into any common data format for import into product information management software or ecommerce platforms.

Perfect for retail, ecommerce, procurement, MDM, and manufacturing companies, the eCommerce Taxonomy Portal provides a foundation to build on, and averts the painstaking process of building classifications up from scratch. Mark Leher, WAND’s COO, is quoted in the article defining the web-based applications place in the master data management arena. He explains that it can be used to speed up taxonomy projects by empowering users to simply edit, rather than start from the very beginning.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 16, 2017

Investment Group Acquires Lexmark

February 15, 2017

We read with some trepidation the Kansas City Business Journal’s article, “Former Perceptive’s Parent Gets Acquired for $3.6B in Cash.”  The parent company referred to here is Lexmark, which bought up one of our favorite search systems, ISYS Search, in 2012 and placed it under its Perceptive subsidiary, based in Lenexa, Kentucky. We do hope this valuable tool is not lost in the shuffle.

Reporter Dora Grote specifies:

A few months after announcing that it was exploring ‘strategic alternatives,’ Lexmark International Inc. has agreed to be acquired by a consortium of investors led by Apex Technology Co. Ltd. and PAG Asia Capital for $3.6 billion cash, or $40.50 a share. Legend Capital Management Co. Ltd. is also a member of the consortium.

Lexmark Enterprise Software in Lenexa, formerly known as Perceptive Software, is expected to ‘continue unaffected and benefit strategically and financially from the transaction’ the company wrote in a release. The Lenexa operation — which makes enterprise content management software that helps digitize paper records — dropped the Perceptive Software name for the parent’s brand in 2014. Lexmark, which acquired Perceptive for $280 million in cash in 2010, is a $3.7 billion global technology company.

If the Lexmark Enterprise Software (formerly known as Perceptive) division will be unaffected, it seems they will be the lucky ones. Grote notes that Lexmark has announced that more than a thousand jobs are to be cut amid restructuring. She also observes that the company’s buildings in Lenexa have considerable space up for rent. Lexmark CEO Paul Rooke is expected to keep his job, and headquarters should remain in Lexington, Kentucky.

Cynthia Murrell, February 15, 2017

Online Gun Sales Strengthens the Technology and Law Enforcement Connection

February 14, 2017

A feature article on CNN recently provided some background on Dark Web marketplaces. Entitled Inside the illegal online weapons trade, this piece shares the story of Michael Andrew Ryan. Ryan adopted the moniker gunrunner and opened up a gun sales business on the Dark Web while based in a small town in Kansas. Dark Web trading statistics are tough to pinpoint. However, in comparison with other illegal online trading, gun sales on the Dark Web are less than 3% according to a Carnegie Mellon professor and researcher. The author writes,

By the way, it’s entirely legal to buy guns online in the U.S. — although the process is more complicated, depending on various factors. Nonetheless, the ATF said it’s taking enforcement to a new level by creating an Internet Investigations Center aimed at combating illegal online gunrunners. The center includes federal agents, legal counsel and investigators. Their job: track illegal online firearms trafficking and feed intelligence to agents in the field. It’s a gigantic task, which aims to hit a constantly moving target.

While we will not comment on the sensationalizing and dramatizing of the Dark Web through Ryan’s story, we can say found the concluding remarks above to be helpful. This presents a good picture of the interconnectivity between multiple layers of law enforcement. It also hints at a need for technology upgrades in this cybersecurity arena.

Megan Feil, February 14, 2017

Data Mining Firm Cambridge Analytica Set to Capture Trump White House Communications Contract and Trump Organization Sales Contract

February 13, 2017

The article titled Data Firm in Talks for Role in White House Messaging — And Trump Business on The Guardian discusses the future role of Cambridge Analytica in both White House communication and the Trump Organization as well. Cambridge Analytica is a data company based out of London that boasts crucial marketing and psychological data on roughly 230 million Americans. The article points out,

Cambridge’s data could be helpful in both “driving sales and driving policy goals”, said the digital source, adding: “Cambridge is positioned to be the preferred vendor for all of that.”… The potential windfall for the company comes after the Mercers and Cambridge played key roles in Trump’s victory. Cambridge Analytica was tapped as a leading campaign data vendor as the Mercers… The Mercers reportedly pushed for the addition of a few top campaign aides, including Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who became campaign manager.

Robert Mercer is a major investor in Cambridge Analytica as well as Breitbart News, Steve Bannon’s alt-right news organization. Steve Bannon is also on the board of Cambridge Analytica. The entanglements mount. Prior to potentially snagging these two wildly conflicting contracts, Cambridge Analytica helped Trump win the presidency with their data modeling and psychological profiling that focuses on building intimate relationships between brands and consumers to drive action.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 13, 2017

Dark Pools Demystified

February 13, 2017

Have you ever heard of dark pools? You may be hearing more about them as Bitcoin pioneer Jered Kenna and TradeZero offer digital currency dark pool trading. According to this International Business Times article, these two have created the world’s first dark pool exchange for Bitcoin. Their plan is to eventually scale to include other digital currencies. What is a dark pool? It is a private exchange to trade securities in a way where large transactions can occur without impacting the marketing. This means it can be used to avoid adverse price movements. We learned,

The Bitcoin market is less liquid than traditional FX and hence more volatile. Dark pool trading in Bitcoin would be useful to mainstream investors who may want to make large trades in Bitcoin, or use it as a currency hedge without alerting the market to their positions. Kenna, who launched the first US Bitcoin exchange in 2011, brings a wealth of experience to the table. He told IBTimes UK: “Dark pool trading certainly mitigates volatility where individuals making large trades are concerned.

Apparently, the size of the trade one would need to impact the Bitcoin market in is much smaller than what traditional traders experience. Jared Kenna appears to be projecting the future of Bitcoin, and non-traditional currencies in general, to explode. Why else would there be such a need for this kind of service? This is something we will be keeping an eye on, especially as it may come to be more interconnected with Dark Web matters.

Megan Feil, February 13, 2017

IBM Watson PR Tax Excitement

February 10, 2017

In one eight hour period I noticed these rah rah write ups about IBM Watson doing taxes. How timely? What a coincidence that these publications ran stories about yet another Watson achievement. Everything it seems except sustainable revenue.

Here are the write ups I reviewed:

  • Fast Company, “H&R Block’s Watson-Powered Robots Are Here To Help With Your Taxes” stating “Block and IBM say Watson has digested 600 million “data points” from past filings to learn tips and tricks.” I bet those IRS analysts love those “tricks.”
  • TechCrunch, “H&R Block Is Now Using IBM Watson to Find Tax Deductions,” stating “Beginning Sunday, February 5th, H&R Block customers will be able to interact with the new system at the company’s retail locations.” Nifty. Foot traffic for those who want H&R Block to “do” their taxes. In short, no hands on yet, right?
  • New York Times, “IBM Gives Watson a New Challenge: Your Tax Return,” stating “For IBM, the collaboration with H&R Block underlines its strategy in the emerging market for artificial intelligence technology. Watson will touch consumers, but through IBM’s corporate clients.” You may have to pay to view this apparent chunk of marketing collateral. I love the “touch” thing.

You get the idea. A huge PR push for Watson, H&R Block, a promo for a super bowl commercial, and jargon about how smart Watson because it indexes text.

Revenues? Did anyone mention revenues? Cost? Did anyone mention cost? Competitive technology? Did anyone mention competitors? Editorial rigor? Are you nuts? Rigor. What’s that?

Nah. Watson. Weakly.

Stephen E Arnold, February 10, 2017

Dark Web Drug Sales Show No Signs of Slowing

February 10, 2017

Business is apparently booming for Dark Web drug sales. Business Insider published an article that reports on this news: An in-depth new study shows that the online market for illegal drugs is skyrocketing. The study conducted by RAND Europe found the number of transactions on illegal drug sites has tripled since 2013, and revenues have almost doubled. Apparently, most of the shipping routes are within North America. The article tells us,

Elsewhere in the study, researchers found that wholesale transactions (which it categorised as sales worth over $1,000 [£770]) generated a quarter of total revenue for drug marketplaces. That figure was unchanged between 2013 and 2016, though. Cannabis was the most popular drug globally, making up 33% of drug marketplace transactions. But the report looked at sales to Holland specifically and found that it only made up 17% of transactions there. That’s likely because the sale of cannabis is legal in the country through licensed venues, reducing the need for people to use illegal online stores.

The year 2013 carries meaning because it was in fall 2013 that the Silk Road was shut down. This study suggests its closure did not eliminate Dark Web drug sales. As the article alludes to, as cannabis laws may or may not change in the United States, it will be interesting to see how this affects Dark web use and marketplace sales.

Megan Feil, February 10, 2017

IQwest IT Steps Up Its Machine Translation Marketing

February 3, 2017

Machine translation means that a computer converts one language into another. The idea is that the translation is accurate; that is, presents the speaker’s or writer’s message payload without distortion, odd ball syntax, and unintended humor. What’s a “nus”? The name of a nuclear consulting company or a social mistake? Machine translation, as an idea, has been around since that French whiz Descartes allegedly cooked up the idea in the 17th century.

I read two almost identical articles, which triggered by content marketing radar. The first write up appeared in KV Empty Pages as “Finding the Needle in the Digital Multilingual Haystack.” The second article appeared in the Medium online publication as “Finding the Needle in the Digital Multilingual Haystack.”



Notice the similarity. Intrigued I ran a query for IQwest. I noted that the domain name refers to a bum domain name. I did a bit of poking around and learned that there are companies using IQwest for engineering services, education, and legal technologies. The domain is owned by Qwest Communications in Denver.

The machine translation write up belongs to the group. No big deal, of course, but knowing which company’s name overlaps with other companies’ usage is interesting.

Now what’s the message in these two identical essays beyond content marketing? For me, the main point is that a law firm can use software translation to eliminate documents irrelevant to the legal matter at hand. For documents not in the lawyer’s native language, machine translation can churn out a good enough translation. The value of machine translation is that it is cheaper than a human translator and a heck of a lot less expensive.

Okay, I understand, but I have understood the value of machine translation since I had access to a Systran based system years ago. Furthermore, machine translation systems have been an area of interest in some of the government agencies with which I am familiar for decades.

The write up states:

building a model and process that takes advantage of benefits of various technologies, while minimizing the disadvantages of them would be crucial. In order to enhance any and all of these solution’s capabilities, it is important to understand that machines and machine learning by itself cannot be the only mechanism we build our processes on. This is where human translations come into the picture. If there was some way to utilize the natural ability of human translators to analyze content and build out a foundation for our solutions, would we be able improve on the resulting translations? The answer is a resounding yes!

Another, okay from me. The solution, which I anticipated, is a rah rah for the IQwest machine translation system. What’s notable is that the number of buzzwords used to explain the system caught my attention; for instance:

  • Classification
  • Clustering
  • N grams
  • Summarization

These standard indexing functions are part of the IQwest machine translation system. That system, the write up notes, can be supplemented with humans who ride herd on the outputs and who interact with the system to make sure that entities (people, places, things, events, etc.) are identified and translated. This is a slippery fish because some persons of interest have different names, handles, nicknames, code words, and legends. Informed humans might be able to spot these entities because no system with which I am familiar is able to knit together some well crafted aliases. Remember those $5,000 teddy bears on eBay. What did they represent?

The write up seems to be aimed at attorneys. I suppose that group of professionals may not be aware of the machine translation systems available online and for on premises installation. For the non attorney reader, the write up tills some familiar ground.

I understand the need to whip up sales leads, but the systems available from Google and Microsoft, to name just two work reasonably well. When those systems are not suitable, one can turn to SDL or Systran, to name two vendors with workable systems.

Net net: My thought is that two identical versions of the same article directed at a legal audience represents a bit of marketing wonkiness. The write up’s shotgun approach to reaching attorneys is interesting. I noticed the duplication of content, and my hunch is that Google’s duplicate detection system did as well.

Perhaps placing the write up in an online publication reaching lawyers would be a helpful use of the information?  What’s clear is that IQwest represents an opportunity for some motivated marketing expert to offer his or her services to the company.

My take is that IQwest offers a business process for reducing costs for litigation related document processing. The translation emphasis is okay, but the idea of making a phone call and getting the job done is what differentiates IQwest from, for example, the GOOG. I remember Rocket Docket. A winner. When I looked at that “package,” the attorneys with whom I spoke did not care about what was under the hood. The hook was speed, reduced cost, and more time to do less dog work.

But the lawyers may need to hurry. “Lawyers Are Being Replaced by Machines That Read.” Dragging one’s feet technologically and demanding high salaries despite a glut of legal eagles may change the game and quickly.

Plus, keep in mind You can get voice translations as well as text translations. The increasingly frugal Google has trimmed its online translation service. Sigh. The days of pasting lengthy text into a box is gone like a Loon balloon drifting away from Sri Lanka.

There are options, gentle reader.

Stephen E Arnold, February 3, 2017

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