A New Era for IBM Starts Today - The UpStream

A New Era for IBM Starts Today

posted Monday Oct 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

A New Era for IBM Starts Today

IBM is a company that everyone knows. Everyone has an impression of who the company is and what they represent, and that vision is based on when they were introduced to the company. If you were introduced to the company in the early 1900s, you know them as the company that manufactured time punch machines. If your introduction came in the mid 1900s, you likely think of them as the company that made other machines you used in your daily life, such as typewriters and tabulators. If you learned of the company in the late 1900s, you likely knew them mostly as the term "IBM compatible" when it came to computers. Microsoft hadn't quite made its own name, so instead of a Windows computer or PC, you had Apple, Tandy and IBM-compatible computers. That brand dilution led to the impression of the first 10+ years of the 2000s, that of the company that made antique looking computers, likely the ones you used in school.

If you were to learn about the company today, though, your association is probably with artificial intelligence and machine learning, likely because of Watson. What most people don't know, however, is that IBM has always had a massive interest in artificial intelligence of all sorts. In fact, the first practical usage of AI was demonstrated by Watson's namesake, CEO Thomas Watson Jr. in 1956. That demonstration was of an IBM machine playing checkers against a human player, and learning about the game the more it played. Obviously that technology eventually evolved into Deep Blue, which famously beat a chess master at the game repeatedly. While there were other chess-playing computers, the difference with Deep Blue was it learned lessons about opponents merely by playing.

Today, Deep Blue has evolved into Watson, which famously beat Jeopardy master Ken Jennings. This was done by adding Natural Language Processing to the system, allowing Watson to listen to Alex Trebek and understand the question being asked even though it is posed as a statement. From there, Watson was able to answer in the form of a question. That was about all Watson could do at the time, though, meaning it had no real world application. The point of the outing was to prove the technology, and that they did. Since then, Watson has grown up, learning through machine learning, and enhanced with new APIs.

Today, Watson is capable of analyzing just about any data with Watson Analytics, including powering all of the data for The Weather Company. In fact, because of Watson, TWC has changed their modeling from a 6 hour cycle in 2 million locations to a 15 minute cycle in 2.3 billion locations. This has created a scenario where they can provide hyper localized weather data and forecasts that are up-to-date on mobile. On their previous data model and processing system this would never have been possible. The data is so accurate and localized that both Android and iOS use it as their native data provider.

The problem that IBM has to overcome is the damages of their past. The consumer computer industry tainted the view of a whole generation against IBM. Unfortunately, that is the generation that is leading the charge for the insight economy, and they are currently choosing Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services over the offerings of IBM and Watson. This week's event, IBM Insight 2015, is trying to change that perception. Rather than using Watson as the spokesperson for the company, they are putting real people in front of the attendees who can speak on what choosing Watson has done for their business. In today's technology industry, there is nothing better than a heartfelt success story in selling a product or service.

The question is, can IBM use this event to jump-start a new era of perception for the company and its technology? If the general tone of this event is any indication of the culture change inside of IBM, I think they can pull it off.

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