UPDATED 17:07 EST / OCTOBER 22 2019

Rob Thomas, IBM AI

IBM aims to make ‘AI superpowers’ accessible for all businesses

The first superpower of the digital era was data. Then it was the cloud. Now artificial intelligence has stepped into the transformation spotlight.

But despite its mystical allure, AI has a long way to go before it hits the mainstream. Current organizational adoption is under 10%, according to statistics presented at the IBM Data and AI Forum by keynote speaker Rob Thomas (pictured), general manager of IBM data and Watson AI at IBM Corp.

“That’s not an acceptable rate of adoption … for what is the largest economic opportunity we will ever see in our lives,” Thomas said in an interview with Dave Vellante, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the IBM Data and AI Forum in Miami, Florida.

Thomas and Vellante discussed how IBM is aiming to drive AI adoption in businesses through a combination of tools available through the company’s Watson Anywhere multicloud platform and data science teams to kickstart a company’s AI initiative (see the full interview with transcript here). (* Disclosure below.)

If at first you don’t succeed, try AI again

Most businesses are fearful of starting projects without a reasonably high chance of success. This doesn’t work for AI, according to Thomas. He advocates companies change to a more experimental and fast-paced culture.

“Don’t do one AI experiment; do a hundred AI experiments in the next year,” Thomas said. “Be prepared that half of them aren’t going to work. But for the 50 that do work, you double down, then you triple down.”

Superheroes aren’t born with superpowers; they undergo a transformation that increases their innate abilities and makes them all-powerful. Applying AI in an organization is a similar process, according to Thomas. And the first step is identifying the unique value proposition or area of specialty where AI will have the greatest impact on the company.

“It’s actually not about doing something completely different. It’s about accentuating what you already do,” Thomas said. “Your superpower is only going to last if it starts with who you are as a company or as a person.”

The magic inside the AI black box

While the power of IBM’s Watson system can seem magical to some, Thomas unpacks the contents of the black box to show its simplicity.

“Think of it as a toolbox,” he said. “AI for Watson is about tools for if you want to build your own AI and applications for if you want to consume an application. We’ve also got embedded AI capabilities so you can pick up Watson and put it inside of any software product in the world.”

AI can also solve the data skills gap, according to Thomas, who said IBM has a team of crack scientists who go into businesses to guide and train them toward AI success. Like an elite military team, they get in to accomplish their mission and get out fast.

One success story comes from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. The global bank credits IBM Watson and the elite team for helping them automate 40% of customer service calls and increasing customer satisfaction by 20%.

RBS used the intent classification tool from Watson Assistant to identify simple calls that could be handled by a virtual agent, routing only the more complex issues to human service representatives.

“It’s a model that understands customer intent,” Thomas explained.

The model was trained based on the data from Royal Bank of Scotland, and its expertise level grew as it gained experience. “After 30 days it isn’t very good. After 90 days, it’s really good. After 180 days, it’s excellent,” Thomas explained. “At the core of this is we understand the intent of customers engaging with them. We use natural language processing. It really becomes a virtual agent that’s done all in software. And you can only do that with things like AI.”

As well as taking solving customer services issues without the need for human help, Watson also makes the human agents more powerful at their jobs by giving them access to the entire Royal Bank of Scotland database.

Watson Discovery is embedded in Watson Assistant, so they can basically comb through all the data in the bank to answer a question,” Thomas said. “So, we are giving their employees superpowers.”

Here’s the complete video interview, part of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the IBM Data and AI Forum. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the IBM Data and AI Forum. Neither IBM, the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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