IBM struggling to monetize Watson

IBM’s Watson is set to generate one billion dollars in revenue by 2018, a transcript leaked to the Wall Street Journal reveals. But CEO Virginia Rometty has much bigger ambitions for the Jeopardy!-winning supercomputer. The executive reportedly told her team she was looking to hit the $10 billion mark in that timeframe, a seemingly unreachable goal in view of the fact that, according to the document, the platform made the company less than $100 million as of late October. Still, Watson is poised to become the fastest IBM business to achieve $1 billion in sales, which is quite the achievement for a system originally designed to answer trivia questions. So Big Blue is staying optimistic.

“Watson has rapidly moved from an industry-first research initiative to a commercial reality” that tackles business and social problems, an IBM spokesman was quoted as saying. “IBM is making excellent progress with clients and with partners in advancing Watson, and we are excited about Watson’s future as a cloud service and as technology that will change lives.”

The technologies behind Watson constitute the foundation of IBM’s cognitive computing offering, which mashes real time and predictive analytics together with different datasets and sophisticated visualization techniques to make information more accessible to end users. The software is already starting to show promise in the healthcare industry, where it’s used to advance medical research and personalize treatment plans on an individual basis according to each patient’s unique requirements. At WellPoint, Watson is used to drive operational efficiencies by streamlining day-to-day activities. And the system helps the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York create treatment recommendations based on factors such as patient records, test results and genetic data – functionality that Wikibon editor Bert Latamore sees entering the mainstream this decade. The IBM Watson team is working to make that happen.

According to Rob High, development director of the platform, Big Blue is offering the ability to run natural language queries against massive datasets with unprecedented accuracy.
“We wanted to apply Watson where we could make a difference,” the executive explained, which is why the company is collaborating with Memorial Sloan-Kettering on leveraging the supercomputer to combat cancer.

In this line of work, finding the right answers is quite literally a matter of life and death. That’s why IBM is continuously improving the system, taking advantage of human logic and performance-optimized hardware to push the frontier of natural language processing.
Low-end servers loaded with Watson components are already shipping to customers, and Big Blue is offering a HIPPA-compliant cloud service that utilizes cognitive computing algorithms to let healthcare professionals extract meaning from complex medical data on-demand.
“Part of IBM Watson’s capability is that it can go into an incredibly large corpus of knowledge like that and find answers to the question you’re asking and handle it efficiently in reasonable response times, where ‘reasonable’ is measured in seconds or minutes rather than the days, weeks, or even months that a human researcher would need,” High said.