Can IBM’s Talking Supercomputer Save the Company?
When Watson went on “Jeopardy!” and took down previous champs, IBM’s (NYSE:IBM) supercomputer became a household name. Since then, Watson has been prepping to fry bigger fish — namely, in the health care and financial services industries. Can this followup to “Deep Blue” be the computer that stakes out the future of IBM?
If the “Jeopardy!” results are any indication of Watson’s potential, there would seem to be no ceiling for the supercomputer. Instead of playing video games and winning trivia battles, however, Watson would need to make a lasting impact on a profitable business to become the cash cow IBM needs for a secure future. It appears the healthcare industry will be the one where Watson eventually butters IBM’s bread.
Before envisioning a computer that could diagnose and cure diseases, it’s helpful to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the supercomputer. Watson “trained” for four years to acquire the knowledge and reasoning capabilities it took to knock off Ken Jennings on trivia’s biggest stage. CEO Ginni Rometty told Fortune that while Watson can conceivably end up delivering help to financial services companies, it’s the health care field that holds the biggest upside. Yet Watson’s been at it less than two years.
IBM executives brought Watson to Washington this week to show lawmakers how the computer could change the health care industry. Considering the skyrocketing costs and the obligation of the government to the industry, they were all ears. Michael Barr, a physician who’s a member of the Watson Advisory Board, saw Watson as one day becoming “a virtual member of the clinical team.” Watson’s ability to store and process information independently could save medical teams time when every moment in a patient’s life counts.
Watson is now in the cloud and is accessed by companies that have received awards from IBM, making the coming years pivotal for the future of the company. Members of both parties in Washington expressed the need for the private sector to drive innovation, as well as the need for the government not to impede it.
“Government can help, it can hurt, or it can stay out of the way,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex) told the IBM team. “My job is to help where I can, try to make sure we minimize the hurt. And, for the most part, stay out of your way.” Given the green light in Washington, IBM can take Watson a long way.
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