#goblue / What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson?

I have to admit raising one eye-brow when I caught the title for this article in the New York Times.

Martin Kohn, a former chief medical scientist at IBM Research, recalled recommending using Watson for narrow “credibility demonstrations,” like more accurately predicting whether an individual will have an adverse reaction to a specific drug, rather than to recommend cancer treatments.

“I was told I didn’t understand,” Dr. Kohn said.

The company’s top management, current and former IBM insiders noted, was dominated until recently by executives with backgrounds in services and sales rather than technology product experts. Product people, they say, might have better understood that Watson had been custom-built for a quiz show, a powerful but limited technology.

During my time at IBM, I was in a position that allowed me to work on a number of projects that involved Watson. As a result, I spoke with several engineers who worked on the various individual technologies known collectively as “Watson.”

And they all hated—like, hashtag-hated-trademark hated—the folks in IBM marketing because the way they presented Watson was so, so, so far from reality. Their opinion on sales folks wasn’t much better. They promised clients the world, sold tens of millions of dollars worth of software and services that didn’t work as advertised.

Artificial intelligence is complex. I hear people today talk like you can just hook up AI to anything, and it will automatically receive, gather, process, and synthesize data—Easy peasy—Miller Time! But the reality is that we may be a few inches closer to living out The Jetsons than we were ten years ago.

I’d love for the New York Times to write a follow-up piece on the people who spent ungodly amounts of money at IBM on Watson solutions. Why on Earth did they buy into the advertising so hard?

I’m glad to see the company turn this around with the right people at the helm (read: not marketing and sales folks). IBM is made up mostly of a lot of really smart and wonderful people. This new approach is a better reflection of the talent and their work.