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IBM looks into the future of A.I. at World of Watson

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 26, 2016
In 3 to 5 years, Watson could help doctors diagnose disease and CEOs make business decisions

LAS VEGAS -- In the past five years, IBM's artificial-intelligence-fueled Watson has gone from being a game show champion to operating in such industries as finance, retail, health care and pure research.

In another five years, Watson will be helping a doctor diagnose a patient's symptoms and a company CEO calculate whether to buy a competitor.

That's the word coming from IBM executives speaking Tuesday at the opening of the IBM World of Watson conference here.

"The technology is not even moving fast. It's accelerating. It's moving faster and faster every day," said John Kelly III, senior vice president of Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research. "Honestly, it blows my mind and I'm an optimist."

Ever since Watson, an intelligent system that uses machine learning and natural language recognition, beat Jeopardy champions in 2011, the system has been used in a variety of industries, and IBM is hoping to show how far it has come.

However, Kelly wanted to focus on where Watson is going.

"In three to five years, every single medical professional is going to want to consult Watson," he said. "How could you not use a tool to help you make the optimal decision on a patient? In three to five years, I can't imagine a company making a merger and acquisition decision without Watson."

He added that it won't be long before Watson is predicting the future. Doctors, for example, may use Watson to help predict when a diabetic patient is about to have a blood sugar spike.

"When that happens, then we truly, truly, have changed the world," Kelly said.

Today, though, David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson, said he is focused on what Watson can do with the growing flood of data that companies are struggling to manage.

"Today, we are challenged to make sense of this vast amount of data we're creating," Kenny said. "The growth is far outpacing our ability to consume it." Companies could get out from under the data deluge with Watson processing all of this data, making sense of it and answering questions about it, he said.

For Faisal Masud, Staples' chief digital officer, using Watson means helping customers sift through the company's huge online catalog to find the products they want.

"With Watson, Staples is making ordering easy," Masud said during the keynote. "It's not just about ordering. At its core, with Watson, the Easy button is the assistant's assistant."

Staples has turned its Easy button icon into an app that's powered by Watson. With the app, customers can text, talk or send a photo of what they're looking for and the app will order it for them.


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