Saxena never said commercializing Watson would be easy. And efforts at monetizing the technology have taken hits because the technology has been viewed as too complex for some uses or as a solution looking for a problem.
Indeed, in a September 2011 interview on the IBM Smarter Planet blog, Saxena said: “We are in the early stages of commercializing this technology. Challenges range from selecting the right markets and solutions to go after first, to building a software and services delivery infrastructure. We also need to develop skills, methods and tools to handle this new class of systems. The focus is not just on speed and latency now, but also on accuracy and confidence of the answers being generated. Commercializing Watson will be like leading a startup in many ways—but at a faster pace. We will need to cover in three or four months what a typical start up would normally build up in a year. Overall, the journey for realizing the full value of Watson will take five, seven or maybe as many as 10 years."
So two and a half years ago Saxena was saying Watson could take five to 10 years to realize its full potential. Yet he still says he foresees a nearly infinite array of ways cognitive technologies will help us in the future.
“I'm excited about the future advances in cognitive computing coming from IBM, which will spur opportunities for a broad ecosystem—from startups to venture capitalists and large companies—that share a vision for creating a new class of cognitive apps that will transform how businesses and consumers make decisions," Saxena said. “There's no shortage of ideas and interest in joining this community. Within months of IBM announcing its Watson Developer Cloud, more than 1,300 companies contacted IBM about participating in this innovation ecosystem."
He also noted that IBM's Watson Group set aside $100 million to fund startups that will focus on Watson technology as a foundation for their businesses, and he plans to piggyback on that.
“My fund, along with IBM, made our first investments in Welltok, a Denver-based health care management company," Saxena said. “It's embedding Watson in its online service, CaféWell, which connects health care consumers with their care providers, employers and insurance companies—empowering people to take charge of their own well-being."
Al Hilwa, program director at IDC, said: “What IBM Watson is doing is highly disruptive, and it does require a lot of creative thinking to find the best uses of this technology at scale and in a way that can fund the huge R&D that can fuel it. It is IBM's character and strength to keep pushing and to play for the long-run."