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March 27, 2012

WaaS Up? IBM Unveils Watson-as-a-Service

Tiffany Trader

Since its infamous Jeopardy win over a year ago, IBM’s AI-darling Watson has been busy establishing real-world relationships in the financial and health care sectors. Back in September, IBM and health insurer WellPoint teamed up to develop the first commercial applications for the IBM Watson technology. Then in December, WellPoint announced that the new offerings would be used to help physicians diagnose and treat cancer patients. Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute joined the partnership to provide expert guidance.

IBM Watson logoEarlier this month, IBM announced its AI prodigy Watson would be put to work helping the financial services sector as part of a partnership between Big Blue and Citigroup. IBM Watson’s deep analytical abilities are a perfect match for organizations looking to rapidly uncover valuable insights from massive data stores.

According to the release, “Watson’s ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information to suggest options targeted to a consumers’ individual circumstances, can help accelerate and assist decision makers in identifying opportunities, evaluating risks, and exploring alternative actions that are best suited for their clients.”

Not much else was known about Watson’s plans outside these few press releases, but then IBM made the unlikely move to unveil its Watson strategy in a Twitter chat room. “IBM Watson and Cloud” became the lead topic for the March #cloudchat. A complete transcript of the discussion is available here, while the IBM-sponsored section of Wired, Cloudline, offers a synopsis of the key points.

And key point number one is that “[Watson] is ONLY available as a service.” This was in response to a question about when Watson-as-a-Service would be commercially available, to which IBM added that publicly-available use cases would not be available anytime soon. In response to a query about the best use case for Watson, IBM further responded that “[Watson] in cloud does not necessarily mean a public, consumer use case. It’s a deployment choice for clients.”

The first question for the Twitter chat: “What is IBM Watson and how does it tie in with cloud?”

The responses are from IBM Watson (@IBMWatson) unless otherwise noted:

  • [Watson] is a new class of industry specific analytic solutions that use deep content analysis and evidence based reasoning.

  • [Watson] is important because it fundamentally change the way businesses look at quickly solving problems.
  • Unconstrained by Jeopardy rules the cloud will open up new data sources & optimization possibilities (from invited analyst Adrian Bowles – @ajbowles).
  • I expect to see variants of Watson for different domains in public (WaaS), private & hybrid cloud environments (from invited analyst Adrian Bowles).
  • IBM will work with clients on deployment preferences but intends to deploy [Watson] on both private and hybrid cloud.
  • Although It is not on IBM’s SmartCloud environment, [Watson’s] WellPoint engagement is running on an IBM hosted environment.
  • [Watson’s] WellPoint pilot has a small set of initial users but as it expands, IBM may look at using SmartCloud.

When asked what IBM Watson would be able to do in five years and whether there be other Watson-like machines, IBM responded that Watson is “best suited for use cases involving critical decision making based on large volumes of unstructured data.” IBM also stated, “Watson is a client-driven initiative. IBM pushes it in directions our clients need.”

Speaking of big data, IBM presents the following scenarios as evidence of the need for analytics technologies like Watson:

  • 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years. And 80% of that data is unstructured.
  • Five new research documents come out of Wall Street every minute.
  • Medical information is doubling every 5 years.
  • 83% of CIO’s cited BI and analytics as part of their visionary plan.

As for whether Watson is the smartest machine on the planet, the company says the real goal is to make users smarter: “[Watson] is a machine and only as smart as the people that contribute to it,” says IBM.