The Many Hats of Watson the Supercomputer

October 23, 2014

The article titled IBM Opens Watson Headquarters in NYC Amid New Cognitive Milestones on eweek cheers Watson on in his many current pursuits. New York’s Silicon Alley is Watson’s new home, near Facebook and Cooper Union. As Watson settles in (accompanied by an entourage of 600 IBM employees, which is less than half of the staff assigned to Watson overall) IBM continues to hype their supercomputer. The article states,

“IBM describes Watson as a groundbreaking platform that represents a new era of computing based on its ability to interact in natural language, process vast amounts of big data to uncover patterns and insights, and learn from each interaction… An interactive client experience lab will serve as a place for IBM clients to experience Watson and learn how it can help transform their businesses. In addition, the headquarters will host a design lab for continuously enhancing the user experience…”

Universities are also embracing Watson, with initiatives at ten top schools teaching Watson programming courses this semester, and CUNY students competing to develop Watson-based apps. In the meantime, Watson is being kept busy learning Spanish, improving cancer care, advising college students, and powering better travel experience through WayBlazer. When does Watson rest?

Chelsea Kerwin, October 23, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Sail Labs Applauded for ASR that Understands Children

October 20, 2014

Sail Labs is clearly proud of its recent contribution to children’s education. The News & Events section of their website crows, “ITalk2Learn—a Learning Platform Powered by Sail’s ASR Technology for Children’s Voices—Wins 2 Awards in European Competition.” Hm, I suppose differences between adults’ and children’s voices would pose certain challenges for automatic speech recognition. You can read more about the triumphant platform here. The press release briefly informs us:

As a consortium member of the collaborative European project iTlak2Learn, SAIL LABS Technology is proud to have contributed its ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) technology to help develop a learning platform to support children aged 5 to 11 learning mathematics.

SAIL LABS is now especially delighted to announce that the platform prototype qualified for the win of 2 awards during EC-TEL 2014, the Ninth European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning.

*Best Demo Award, Second Position

The award is sponsored by Online EDUCA Berlin, the largest global e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors. The awards were granted based on the votes of the conference participants.

*Honourable Mention by Business Angels

The website for that European tech-enhanced learning conference, EC-TEL 2014, can be found here. Sail Labs, whose breezy name stands for Speech-Artificial-Intelligence-Language-Laboratories, was formed back in 1999. The company specializes in high-end software for speech and multimedia analysis for vertical markets. Sail Labs is located in Vienna, Austria.

Cynthia Murrell, October 20, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Talend Gets a New CTO

October 17, 2014

For a technology-driven company, the position of CTO takes on special significance. We learn from that “Talend Appoints New Chief Technology Officer and Head of R&D.” (The original article is in French; I used Google Translate.) The company is confident that Lawrence Bride’s two decades of experience make him the right pick to steer the company’s strategy into the future. The press release sums up the executive’s bona fides:

“More recently, Laurent Bride served as CTO of Axway, the market leader in the governance of data flow. Before joining Axway, he was Senior Vice President of Advanced Development division of SAP, leading a team of 350 developers to design solutions Big Data, cloud, analytics and next generation mobile. Laurent Bride arrived at SAP following the acquisition of BusinessObjects, where he spent 10 years overseeing software development. He graduated from EISTI (International School Science Information Processing).

“‘Lawrence brings extensive management expertise to development teams advanced size that aim to driver technological innovation policy of a company,’ commented Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend. ‘Laurent is a real techie with a recognized ability to enable the visionary development of new products to meet future customer needs.’”

Founded in 2005, Talend supplies data-management and application-integration middleware to organizations of all sizes. Already a leader in Hadoop-based data management, the company boosted that standing in 2010 with its acquisition of Sopera. They cite their scalable platform, flexible architecture, and easy-to-use tools as reasons they have grown to serve more than 4,000 enterprise customers. Talend maintains offices around the world but splits its headquarters between Surenes, France, and Redwood City, California.

Cynthia Murrell, October 17, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

IBM Downloads More Brains Into Watson

October 17, 2014

IBM is really pushing ways to prove that Watson was a smart invention. Technology Review explains that “EMTech: IBM Tries To Make Watson Smarter” by seeking ways for it to be used commercially. Watson was programmed in a question and answer format for its time on Jeopardy! The format can be expanded and augmented with applications geared towards a specific industry.

IBM has been discussing how its been making Watson smarter for most of 2014 and the article simply reiterates projects in financial, medical, and legal sectors. IBM wants to deploy Watson to automated call centers next.

One new point was mentioned:

“At the EmTech conference, a questioner from USAA pointed out that the system was having some trouble, in part because it would not allow users to ask follow-up questions. Each request was treated as a standalone problem, making Watson awkward to use at times. [Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group] said he would meet with USAA later this week.”

Watson is still not quite human, not that we want it to be. Watson has a pretty good PR team to puff its capabilities up, but the results are still in development.

Whitney Grace, October 17, 2014
Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Quote to Note: HP Has a Racier Side

October 13, 2014

Navigate to “Split Today, Merge Tomorrow.”

Here’s the quote:

Unlike many similar spin-offs, the racier half of HP, which will be called Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and maintain Ms Whitman at the helm, is unlikely to deliver strong growth immediately on being unshackled. Revenues at those businesses have shrunk by 4% in the past year, and competition to sell servers, data storage, software and services to businesses is fierce.

Is the racier an example of British subtlety, or is there an editor who believes that the word “racy” and Hewlett Packard are one of those metaphors like peanut butter and jelly? You know words that just go together.

HP may have a side I have overlooked. Racy.

Stephen E Arnold, October 13, 2014

Portals are Back, for All Devices through CMS

October 13, 2014

The article on Business Zone titled Enterprise Portals: Your Company’s Internal Business Card offers some tips on the perfect portal. That’s, right portals are back! The question is, will mobile users rely on them? The article suggests that the typically slow and overloaded portals need not be the rule for all portals. Due to their association with difficulty, many companies fail to spend the appropriate time and resources building clear and intuitive portals. The article states,

“Once the structure of the portal has been created, regular updating is key to avoiding clutter. In particular, platforms that have grown over time with little control or management, tend to get overcrowded with information quickly. It is essential to provide a positive user experience which is why regular audits and updates to the content are vital. Businesses should also make sure to have gatekeepers in place that control the amount and nature of content that is uploaded.”

Stressing the importance of relevance, the article puts forth the notion that a well-crafted enterprise portal can act as a “virtual colleague.” Using Content Management Systems (CMS) can help corporations allow for a portal use from a variety of devices. The automatic distribution of content to all devices could foreseeably be an excellent step in streamlining the output of up-to-date information.

Chelsea Kerwin, October 13, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Amazon Learns from XML Adventurers

October 10, 2014

I recall learning a couple of years ago that Amazon was a great place to store big files. Some of the XML data management systems embraced the low prices and pushed forward with cloud versions of their services.

When I read “Amazon’s DynamoDB Gets Hugely Expanded Free Tier And Native JSON Support,” I formed some preliminary thoughts. The trigger was this passage in the write up:

many new NoSQL and relational databases (including Microsoft’s DocumentDB service) now use JSON-style document models. DynamoDB also allowed you to store these documents, but developers couldn’t directly work with the information stored in them. That’s changing today. With this update, developers can now use the AWS SDKs for Java, .NET, Ruby and JavaScript to easily map their JSON data to DynamoDB’s own data types. That turns DynamoDB in a fully-featured document store and is going to make life easier for many developers on the platform.

Is JSON better than XML? Is JSON easier to use than XML? Is JSON development faster than XML? Ask an XML rock star and the answer is probably, “You crazy.” I can hear the guitar riff from Joe Walsh now.

Ask a 20 year old in a university programming class, and the answer may be different. I asked the 20 something sitting in my office about XML and he snorted: “Old school, dude.” I hire only people with respect for their elders, of course.

Here are the thoughts that flashed through my 70 year old brain:

  1. Is Amazon getting ready to make a push for the customers of Oracle, MarkLogic, and other “real” database systems capable of handling XML?
  2. Will Amazon just slash prices, take the business, and make the 20 year old in my office a customer for life just because Amazon is “new school”?
  3. Will Amazon’s developer love provide the JSON fan with development tools, dashboards, features, and functions that push clunky methods like proprietary Xquery messages into a reliquary?

No answers… yet.

Stephen E Arnold, October 10, 2014


Robot Writers Flood the Web

October 10, 2014

If you are reading this, it is likely that you look to the Internet for bit of news that inform your opinion on trends, technology, news stories, and the like. And most would assume that those stories and articles are crafted by humans who have an interest and experience in the field, just as this one is. But alas, we would all be wrong to believe that assumption. Robot writers are a growing proportion of the field. Read the details in the Contently article, “Does Your Brand Newsroom Need a Robot Writer?

The article begins:

“If you’ve spent any time reading on the web the past week, odds are you’ve read something written by a robot—and you didn’t even realize it. Robot writers are algorithms that collect and analyze data and then turn them into readable narratives. Many news sites like the Los Angeles Times and Forbes are already using them. Even Wikipedia has articles that weren’t written by humans.”

It is not surprising that automation has invaded the world of writing, but the jury is still out as to whether the quality is acceptable. But this also poses a question about cultural expectations regarding the quality of writing, particularly on Web outlets. See if you can spot the difference between articles crafted by human experts versus those written by a robot.

Emily Rae Aldridge, October 10, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

IBM, True North, and Efficiency

October 7, 2014

I read “How IBM Got Brainlike Efficiency from the TrueNorth Chip.” With the loud hoo hah about artificial intelligence, Thailand’s smart taster technology, and content processing systems that purport to understand human communication—it does not surprise me that IBM tries to ride this trend.

Instead of an application or live demo, IBM has rolled out the “brain architecture” of its TrueNorth chip. This is silicon. The chip is described by the IEEE article as “neuromorphic,” a flashy bit of jargon.

The idea is that the chip is “brain inspired.” The write up reports:

TrueNorth, consists of 1 million programmable neurons and 256 million programmable synapses conveying signals between the digital neurons. Each of the chip’s 4,096 neurosynaptic cores includes the entire computing package: memory, computation, and communication. Such architecture helps to bypass the bottleneck in traditional von Neumann computing, where program instructions and operation data cannot pass through the same route simultaneously.

The idea is that troublesome bottlenecks in von Neumann architecture are sidestepped. If true, this is an interesting development. Why wait for quantum computing? Just ring up the local IBM salesperson and order up servers equipped with this breakthrough.

If only this were possible.

The article points out:

One brainlike feature that IBM did not mimic to reduce power consumption was to make TrueNorth’s neurons analog instead of digital. …IBM fabricated its chip using Samsung’s 28-nanometer process technology—typical for manufacturing chips for today’s mobile devices.

There are several questions that occurred to me as I read this article:

  1. Will IBM be able to deliver an actual product based on this chip?
  2. When will the programming tools become available for this brain-like architecture?
  3. What about supporting components? What will be available and when?
  4. How will IBM maintain control of the chip’s innovations if third parties are involved in the manufacturing, componentization, and assembly of servers?

Worth monitoring.

Stephen E Arnold, September 30, 2014

IBMs Watson Analytics for the Average Businessperson

October 6, 2014

The article on Geekzone titled IBM Introduces Powerful Analytics For Everyone discusses the recent announcement from IBM. The promise of an natural language-based analytics that is easier to get and to use is meant to cater to the modern businessperson. Three major advances in analytics technology have been applied to Watson Analytics including a streamlined “single business analytics experience”, a guided predictive analytics” that brings relevant material to the surface, and finally a “natural language dialogue” in familiar business jargon. Senior Vice President Bob Picciano explains in the article,

“Watson Analytics is designed to help all business people – from sales reps on the road to company CEOs – see patterns, pursue ideas and improve all types of decisions. We have eliminated the barrier between the answers they seek, the analytics they want and the data in the form they need. The combination of Watson-fueled analytics to magnify human cognition, the vast potential of big data, and cloud-scale delivery to PCs, smart phones and other devices is transformational.”

IBM has kept the actual businessperson in mind, the businessperson who spends half of their time collecting accurate data. By automating many of the steps in analysis, Watson analytics aims to aid in the efficiency and relevance of the analysis at hand.

Chelsea Kerwin, October 06, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

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