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IBM’s Watson, known for AI, takes on IoT

News Analysis
Mar 20, 20183 mins
IBMInternet of Things

IBM Watson Assistant is a new artificial intelligence assistant designed to work with autonomous and IoT devices.

ibm watson assistant maserati harman
Credit: Alan Rosenberg/Feature Photo Service for IBM

IBM’s Watson has earned fame besting Jeopardy! champions. But now the artificial intelligence (AI) platform is rolling out Watson Assistant, designed to “help bridge the information and data sharing gap between people and things.”

Announced this morning at the IBM THINK 2018 conference in Las Vegas, an IBM spokesperson described Watson Assistant in an email as “an AI assistant for enterprises that can be accessed via voice or text interaction. Watson Assistant is helping businesses transform their customer experiences by bringing together data on all the places and things consumers interact with daily.” Watson Assistant is designed to be embedded in a wide variety of things, from cars to conference rooms, retail stores to banks.

The idea, apparently, is that Watson Assistant’s AI capabilities can help Internet of Things (IoT) systems serve proactive and personalized experiences with enhanced data security. Initial applications center around travel and vehicles, with such customers as HARMAN, the Munich Airport, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Autodesk.

Maseratis and recipes

In travel applications, the IBM spokesperson said Watson Assistant could eventually automatically communicate changes in your itinerary, including flight delays and other issues, to all your vendors and devices. For example, it could automatically program your destination into your rental car’s navigation system, and it preset smart appliances in your hotel room with your preferred music, temperature, and lighting.

Similarly, in vehicular applications (to be demo’d at the IBM Think conference on a Maserati GranCabrio equipped with an AI-powered dashboard — pictured above) Watson Assistant could ask you questions during your commute home, communicating with your smart home to determine what ingredients you had on hand to make dinner, and suggest appropriate recipes — and where to stop to pick up any missing essentials. It could also identify mechanical problems, such as a short in a fuel-pump relay — and automatically schedule a service appointment.

Other examples provided by IBM include working with Chameleon Technology, a U.K.-based designer and manufacturer of smart home displays, to leverage your calendar and local weather reports to work with your solar panels, home battery, and electric car to ensure that every component is always topped up and ready to go when you need it.

An encouraging AI/IoT vision, if not yet a reality

It’s a grand and compelling vision, but it’s still at the concept stage. While all of these capabilities might exist in the proof-of-concept stage, they’re still a long way from being ready for prime time.

Still, I think IBM is right to focus on the smarts needed to create compelling real-world use cases, combining multiple types of IoT devices from a variety of vendors.

Just as important, I was also heartened to see IBM highlight security and data protection. This kind of AI/IoT synergy creates a lot of personally identifiable data that could lead to unintended consequences if not properly protected. (Of course, that could be possibly true even if the data is properly protected, but taking security seriously is a first step that not every vendor even pays lip service to.)

The next step, for IBM or anyone, is to start pilot programs that actually do the things promised in these new developments, for at least some people in some situations. Only then will we find out how well these approaches work and whether they really make a difference for the people who use them.


Fredric Paul is Editor in Chief for New Relic, Inc., and has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite, InformationWeek, CNET, PCWorld and other publications. His opinions are his own.