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A DATAVERSITY® Interview with IBM’s Watson Team

By   /  October 15, 2012  /  1 Comment

by Jody Ray Bennett

DATAVERSITY is pleased to have recently discussed some of the ins-and-outs of IBM’s Watson, a cognitive-based computer/robot that strives to figure things out really quickly. What does that mean? DATAVERSITY interviewed some of the developers of Watson to find what’s in store in terms of its capability and the future of Big Data.

DATAVERSITY (DV): What benefits does this new AI give us? 

IBM (IBM): IBM’s Watson computing system has the most advanced analytics capabilities available to organizations, scientists, and academics. Watson’s natural language processing allows organizations to extract knowledge from a sea of data and contextual information – allowing it to ‘think’ in a similar way as the human brain. Data is emerging in an increasingly ‘unstructured’ format, such as videos, streams of Twitter and Facebook data, online customer behavior, and even doctor’s notes. This unstructured data is emerging in parallel with massive amounts of data in traditional formats such as IT data storage centers.

DV: What does this mean for the world of Big Data?

IBM: Since its historic victory on Jeopardy! last year, IBM’s Watson ushered in a new era of computing called cognitive systems. This entirely new class of breakthrough technology systems is set to transform business decision making by providing recommendations and actionable insights. By culling through vast amounts of Big Data, cognitive systems like Watson will help us learn how the world really works and helps us to make sense of its complexities. With a combination of Deep QA, natural language processing, analytics, and machine learning capabilities, Watson is designed to process information similar to how the human brain and can respond to questions with a certain degree of confidence – learning and becoming more accurate over time.

As advanced analytics software and cognitive systems become adopted into organizations, it is growing the demand for highly skilled workers in the field of Big Data.  In order to meet this demand for Big Data experts, IBM has partnered with universities across the country to develop and integrate data analytics education into undergraduate and graduate school curriculums. For example, IBM and Michigan State University recently announced a new Master’s Degree program in Business Analytics and the University’s Broad College of Business is rolling out the first-ever IBM Watson case study curriculum. Additionally, this year IBM graduated the first class of Watson interns. The intern class was an elite group of 18 students selected from 1,400 applicants, and were given the opportunity to work alongside clients and some of the brightest minds in business and research on real-world projects. Their work included how Watson’s analytical and predictive capabilities can be used to harness Big Data generated from social media, and improving how marketers engage with customers or how Watson can be used to revolutionize smart phone and instant messaging communication.
DV: What are real examples of Watson’s use in the healthcare industry?
IBM: IBM’s Watson Solution is being used in the healthcare industry to optimize business operations, predict trends and gain insights that deliver better outcomes and improved care. [Here’s how:]

  • By combining IBM Watson’s content and predictive analytics capabilities, Seton Healthcare Family, the leading provider of healthcare services in Central Texas, has been able to reduce hospital readmissions rates. The combination of analytics technology with natural language processing has allowed the hospital to improve the quality of its data to better understand patients’ treatment requirements and identify patients at-risk of being readmitted to the hospital within 30-days. Armed with this information, the hospital has been able to modify treatment programs resulting in more effective and higher-quality care.
  • IBM is also partnered with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to leverage Watson technology to develop solutions for oncology diagnosis and treatment that incorporate the clinical expertise of MSKCC’s cancer experts, as well as patient data and an extensive library of published literature and research on cancer care. This will enable oncologists to more quickly access relevant cancer care information in order to personalize diagnosis and treatment plans for their patients. The intent is to make this resource widely available to cancer caregivers so that regardless of where patients live or physicians practice, they can have access to a comprehensive source of information to help them improve patient care.
  • WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest health insurers with 34.2 million members, is working to develop the first commercial application utilizing IBM Watson to help improve patient care and support physicians in their efforts to make the most informed, personalized treatment decisions possible. Watson’s analytics technology is being used to improve patient care while reducing costs and expensive, unnecessary tests. The WellPoint health care solutions will draw from vast libraries of information including medical evidence-based scientific and health care data, and Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute has signed on to provide the clinical expertise for the system to draw from.

DV: And in the banking/financial industry? 

IBM: Citigroup is working with IBM to explore possible uses for IBM Watson. Citi is examining the use of deep content analysis and evidence based learning capabilities found in IBM Watson to help advance customer interactions, and improve and simplify the banking experience.

DV: Which other industries and “theaters” has the Watson technology been used to an advantage?

IBM: The use of Watson technology has enormous, positive implications across all industries that are data intensive – for example retailing or public safety – to address complex challenges with a high degree of confidence. IBM is continuing to explore new applications for Watson in all industries and beyond. For instance, at the academic level, IBM recently teamed up with the University of Rochester (UR) Simon School of Business on a first-ever Watson academic case competition where students developed new ideas for harnessing IBM Watson technology to solve daunting societal and business challenges, while helping students advance technology and business skills for jobs of the future.

The winning case studies included a crisis management capability to better allocate resources during disasters, a mining application to improve the effectiveness of natural gas, petroleum and other natural resources exploration, and streamlining the customs process for airports to reduce wait times. The case based approach may help shape how IBM applies the Watson technology to client challenges across a variety of industries in the future.

DV: What’s the roadmap for Watson? What’s in store for the future?

IBM: IBM continues its venture into new territories where Watson’s analytics capabilities can improve how businesses and organizations operate.

As we continue in this new era of cognitive computing it will prove to be a revolutionary time that will redefine interaction as we know it, with systems that are capable of learning from their interactions with data and humans, continuously reprogramming themselves to be better and more precise.

As our computing systems become more advanced, so does our society, relying on technological assistance and developments to tackle global issues with speed and accuracy. The rise of social networking has signaled the emergence of an increasingly connected and involved global community. It has also generated massive amounts of data – Big Data – too vast and complex for humans to sift through and deliver meaningful results, so we turn to technology to help us make sense of these connections.

In the next decade or so, systems like IBM’s Watson – data-centric machines that feature embedded data analytics and are designed for statistical analysis – will be commonly available, making the calculations and insights that they generate consumable for organizations everywhere across all lines of business from HR to marketing. Machine learning capabilities will continue to evolve and improve, supplementing, but not replacing human capabilities.

That is why IBM will stay committed to partnering with universities like MSU to bring Watson-based training to business school curriculums and continue to support Watson summer internship programs open to students across all disciplines from computer science, to engineering, to business.

It is an intriguing enterprise, to say the least. IBM’s development of this technology not only thrusts the company to the forefront of development projects seeking to advance artificial intelligence, but it also undertakes the wonders and challenges of much of the Big Data world. IBM has experience with this, however, and this project is sure to reveal even more interesting angles circling around the realm of AI, data accruement, acquisition, storage, and how that data is used. As technology develops, IBM will surely make strides in the Watson computer – its ends propelling along the lines of the evolution of Big Data.


For more information on IBM’s Watson, read: The Big Data Bot: The Future of Watson

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