When asked how IBM would expose Watson to developers, Mills noted that the projects IBM was working on at the time were "very contained" projects with specific clients. However, he said part of the effort with Watson was to modularize and tool Watson to make it easier and easier for IBM customers to do things with it.
"There is a fair amount of tooling that's going to be required to make this thing more digestible," Mills said. "We'll probably go to a T-shirt-sized approach to Watson delivery in the future, where you get a small, medium and large kind of offering. That model for small and medium will not work without effective tooling around the environment to make it easier for you to stand it up and use it."
They've done it. IBM will be launching the IBM Watson Developers Cloud, a cloud-hosted marketplace where application providers of all sizes and industries will be able to tap into resources for developing Watson-powered apps. This will include a developer toolkit, educational materials and access to Watson's application programming interface (API).
Mills also noted that given IBM's history in dealing with app dev, Watson represents a little bit of back to the future. "We and others were delivering Prolog- and LISP-based application development tools back in the late '80s and early '90s," he said. "We all thought that these techniques were going to move faster in the market than they ended up moving. Then it came out again as we did the Watson project."
Asked if IBM has received interest from government agencies, particularly intelligence entities, Mills simply said: "It attracts their attention. It's the kind of thing they like because they're always looking for a needle in a haystack. Their problem is the massive quantity of all the information they have to sift through to find somebody, and they want to know who you are connected to, who do you know, who have you talked to—it's all a degree of separation analysis."
Asked if Watson could be used to power something like "the machine" on the popular CBS drama "Person of Interest," which is an all-seeing, all-knowing database that helps solve crimes and save lives, Mills noted how Jeff Jonas, an IBM fellow and chief scientist of the IBM Entity Analytics Group (who at the time was CEO of an analytics company named Systems Research & Development, which IBM acquired), stepped ABC News through all the publicly available data that existed on the 9/11 hijackers and showed how they were all connected to each other. The data was there.
"We're a big software provider for doing that kind of analysis," Mills said.
There have been all kinds of interesting Watson stories, including the one Ferrucci told at a gathering of analysts at IBM's centennial celebration two years ago. Ferrucci told us how early on his team fed Watson the Urban Dictionary to open it up to slang terms, but when Watson began to deliver foul-mouthed responses to questions they were forced to scrub that data.
Watson takes what you give it and turns it into answers. This is definitely a huge opportunity for developers—and for IBM.