IBM’s Watson Predicted to Reach 1 Billion People by Q4 2017

According to IBM chief executive Virginia Rometty, a billion people will, in some form, use the company’s Watson artificial intelligence tech by the end of 2017. For example, Watson is now integrated with General Motors’ OnStar system in automobiles; Rometty says IBM is working on numerous similar contracts. Watson, one of IBM’s “strategic imperatives,” is a bundle of artificial-intelligence software that is delivered by cloud computing. As IBM’s total revenue slumped for the 18th straight quarter, its servers, software and computing services grew 15 percent in Q3.

The Wall Street Journal, reporting from its WSJDLive 2016 technology conference, says GM debuted OnStar Go, its Watson-assisted version of OnStar subscription service offering “navigation, diagnostics and other features.” OnStar Go learns from users’ behavior “to deliver personalized offers from partners such as Exxon Mobil,” and will respond to voice commands by late 2017.


Another Watson partnership is with Slack, which will use Watson Conversation, “an IBM service that processes natural language,” for use with its Slackbot a customer-service bot. Partnerships with healthcare include a new relationship with Quest Diagnostics using Watson to “help analyze the results of genetic sequencing of tumor samples of cancer patients.” Rometty says IBM is providing “Watson-based services to help doctors in India, which has a severe shortage of cancer specialists.”

Bloomberg reports that Pearson, “the world’s largest education company” is using Watson “to take college tutoring from campus libraries to the virtual world.” The companies, which “declined to disclose terms, costs or revenue projections,” have already launched a pilot project that will expand through 2018.

The project, part of IBM’s Watson Education program, is also Pearson’s effort to move into its digital coursework initiative Revel, as its textbook sales decline. “People learn better when they’re engaged,” said Pearson president of global product Tim Bozik. “We both share a view that this is the kind of partnership that has large-scale potential.”

As a messenger-based tool similar to Facebook Messenger, Watson will be able to respond to students’ questions with “hints, feedback and explanations.” Bozik says “early feedback from students and professors has been positive” and college, faculty and students will help guide its development.

“One-on-one tutoring is the Holy Grail of teaching and all educational approaches should be aimed at replicating this model,” said IBM Watson Education head Harriet Green. “Advanced technologies can help us to understand individual interaction patterns and enable us to tailor educational content accordingly.”

With regard to AI-related ethical questions and risks, Rometty reports the company is “working with companies like Facebook and Google” and says involved companies “must work with government.”