It took International Business Machines researchers four years to develop “Watson”, the computer smart enough to competitively play “Jeopardy!” Now their task is trying to figure out how to shrink Watson down small enough to fit into your smartphone.
Bernie Meyerson, IBM vice president of innovation, envisions a voice-activated Watson that answers questions, like a supercharged version of Apple’s Siri personal assistant. A farmer could stand in a field and ask his phone, “When should I plant my corn?” He would get a reply in seconds, based on location data, historical trends and scientific studies.
Additional uses for Watson is all part of IBM’s plan to tap new markets and increase revenue. After its popular appearance on the Jeopardy! game show, the system is kept busy by crunching financial info for Citigroup, and cancer data for WellPoint Inc. The next version, called logically enough, Watson 2.0, would be energy efficient enough to work on smartphones and tablets.
“The power it takes to make Watson work is dropping down like a stone,” Meyerson said. “One day, you will have ready access to an incredible engine with a world knowledge base.”
IBM says it expects to generate billions in revenue by putting Watson to work in finance, health care, telecommunications and other areas. Watson is the company’s highest-profile product since it sold its personal computer division to Lenovo seven years ago.
The challenges to making Watson a handheld product include:
- As it stands currently, a Watson smartphone application would still consume too much power for it to be practical today.
- Watson takes awhile to do the “machine learning” necessary to be come a reliable assistant in a particular area. The deal with WellPoint was aanounced in September, and the system will take until at least late 2013 to master the field of oncology.
- Voice and image recognition will need to added.
IBM will most likely be concentrating on corporate customers instead of the consumer market like Apple is with its Siri personal assistant feature. Watson will be designed to handle more complex questions than just “Is it raining?” One iPad application for Watson – a health care program developed with a Columbia University professor – is being used to demonstrate its medical capabilities for prospective IBM customers.
Voice and image recognition may prove easier to add to Watson than adding knowledge is, as IBM already makes tools that understand images and natural languages. An IBM project for the U.S. military translates English into local dialects of Arabic.
While this is all quite fascinating, I know I’m not the only one asking the question: “How long until we see the first ‘Siri talking to Watson’ video on YouTube?”