The Gray Lady Grinds on Big Blue

July 20, 2021

The New York Times may not be successful in selling ad space to IBM in the next few months. The estimable “real” news outfit published an entertaining discussion of Watson. Navigate to “What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson.” Pay up. Read the 2,000 word business school, essay, opinion piece. Then check your portfolio to verify that IBM stock is down again, has new executives in new roles, and the tenacity to keep on with the “little engine that could” approach to dealing with the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft as well as start ups offering everything from i2 Analyst Notebook clones to federating data systems to consulting services at a discount.

Yikes. Big Blue. The New York Times.

The write up has a number of zingers; for example:

  • “Beware what you promise” about the “future of knowing.”  Winking smile
  • “Watson has not remade any industries. And it hasn’t lifted IBM’s fortunes.”
  • [Watson] “was not realistic.”
  • [Watson was] “a learning journey.”
  • “… The grand visions of the past are gone.”
  • “Watson is no longer the next big thing, but it may become a solid business for IBM.”

Yep, that is a conditional and instead of an Amazon AWS Sagemaker gusher of cash, a “solid business.” The wonderfulness of the NYT article omits a couple of minor points:

  • The “cognitive computing” pitch. Baloney in my opinion.
  • The manual effort required to train the mash up of home brew code, open source, and stuff acquired from outfits like Vivisimo takes time and subject matter experts. The result? Expensive stuff for sure. And once the system is trained, one has to keep on training whilst optimizing.
  • The complexity of taking a bunch of parts and implementing them as “smart software” is very difficult. Amazon seems to be going for the “off the shelf” approach and “ready to roll” models.

Net net: Let’s ask Watson how about those AI start ups as acquisition targets. Marketing, not innovation, seems to be the go to strength of IBM. What do you say, Watson? Watson, are you there? Wow, that latency is a killer isn’t it?

Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2021

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