IBM Hosted a Big Party for Watson With its CEO as the Star

NEWS ANALYSIS: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty keynoted the company's World of Watson conference in Las Vegas and drove home that Watson is the AI platform for business.

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IBM Watson

LAS VEGAS–IBM held a big party for its Watson cognitive computing technology here this week in the form of the IBM World of Watson (IBM WoW) 2016 conference.

Originally known as IBM Insight, the company augmented the name of the event to focus on Watson and the importance of cognitive technology to the company's future. Indeed, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said hundreds of millions of users interact with Watson-powered systems today and, by the end of next year, she expects there to be more than 1 billion Watson users.

If nothing else, the World of Watson event was a paean to the continuing adoption of Watson across a broad variety of industries and technology areas, including medicine and health care, financial services, retail, manufacturing and travel, as well as technology areas such as cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT), software development and more.

Rometty served as hostess to 17,000 attendees of the Watson party and she pulled it off with aplomb. Rometty's keynote was the highlight of the event: She clearly demonstrated her understanding that IBM has a gem in the Watson artificial intelligence (AI) technology and confidently conveyed its importance and potential—knowing the race is on, but IBM has a head start.

"Watson is the AI platform for business," Rometty declared.

For nearly two hours, Rometty held the stage like it was her own personal talk show, frankly expressing her love for technology—Watson in particular—and her passion for the future of it and for IBM. Her enthusiasm for the direction IBM is taking was palpable, and she struck a chord with every generation of attendee—even millennials, as she had songwriter/producer Alex Da Kid, who recently wrote, produced and performed a new hit song with the help of Watson, eating out of her hands by the end of the session.

IBM Watson and General Motors

Rometty's rapport with her guests was evident—there were hugs all around. She was almost Oprah-esque, if not a bit more elegant—sans the Oprah-like yelling and car giveaways. Although she did joke when her friend Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors (GM), joined her onstage that the audience might expect such a thing.

Barra was on hand to discuss OnStar Go, a cognitive mobility solution built out of GM's partnership with IBM that combines OnStar’s vehicle connectivity and data capabilities with IBM Watson APIs to give GM cars more intelligence.

With the help of Watson, starting in early 2017, OnStar is expected to give millions of GM drivers the ability to connect and interact with their favorite brands. For instance, Barra demonstrated how OnStar Go could tap Watson Personality Insights and Watson Conversation APIs to remind a working father to pick up diapers and formula at the pharmacy a few miles before his exit, so he won’t have to leave the house again once he gets home.

She also demonstrated how the cognitive mobility platform could alert drivers to low fuel levels and direct them to the closest fuel station, recommend the best fuel for their vehicle and authorize fuel payment from inside the vehicle.

Barra said brands ExxonMobil, Glympse, iHeartRadio, MasterCard and Parkopedia are among the first to join platform.

"OnStar Go is a partnership between IBM and GM—we're combining it with Watson so we can tailor it for you," Barra said. "You can create this cognitive platform in the vehicle that can continue to learn who you are."

“Simply put, OnStar Go with IBM Watson transforms time wasted in the car into time well-spent," said Paul Papas, global leader of IBM Interactive Experience (IBM iX), IBM's digital agency, in a statement.