IBM: 8 Questions With Watson's Big Boss

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-01-10 Print this article Print

Can you give me a sense of how this whole Watson vision evolved? At the outset, did IBM foresee this kind of opportunity for a Watson business unit?

I think with any major innovation, the more people see of it the more they start to envision new things. And it's been like peeling an onion over the last two years. As we all started out and were mesmerized by the success of Watson on "Jeopardy," we had clients looking at that success and starting to think up their own ideas about what that could do for their business.

That's clearly what happened in the health care profession. We had doctors watching the "Jeopardy" match on TV and saying, "You know, I need to make sense of all my information. I need to connect that information to questions I have about my patients. And I need help in figuring out how to diagnose problems." Those ideas are coming from the marketplace. Those ideas are coming from how people are envisioning their own future leveraging these technologies and calling us to work with us on this.

We haven't really had a demand problem with respect to Watson. We really had to work with clients to understand how ready they were, how their ideas and use cases fit into what the technologies were going to be able to do. And for many of these interactions, we started to come up with new ideas for new pieces of technology. We started to see the need for other componentry in the system like Watson Analytics and Watson Explorer. And we envision more componentry coming throughout the year.

We'll show some of the new research technologies that are going to move over into the group for rapid commercialization. One of them is a technology called Watson Paths, which is a reasoning engine that helps medical students reason through to what a correct diagnosis might be, with a really unique visualization capability. It's a component that calls the Watson Q&A engine as a subroutine. So we start to see systems building on top of each other as they come together.

So like any startup at the beginning of an initiative, we keep finding new things, which is one of the things that makes me so excited about this space. It's that I see an endless array of opportunities in front of us. And I think if we look back at this moment in time 50 years from now, it will be as significant as when we entered the second era of computing in the late '50s.

I'd like to personalize this a bit. You've been at IBM for a long time and have held several high-level positions. How excited are you to be taking on this new role?

I think you could tell by the way I was talking that I could not be more excited as this has been coming together. You know, the incubation of the Watson team has been part of my organization for a while now. Now that it's ready to go mainstream, I am thrilled to be leading the organization. This will be, after 30 years in this industry, by far the most exciting, most important thing I've ever done in my career.

We think what we've shown to the world so far is just the tip of the iceberg.



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