How IBM turns flashy AI projects like a robot that can debate humans into commercial products for enterprises
IBM is known for its splashy demonstrations of new AI-powered research initiatives like 'Project Debater,' a robot that can debate humans, and IBM Watson. While those publicity stunts are helpful in garnering consumer interest and media attention, the key for IBM is translating the research into products it can sell to enterprises. On Wednesday, the tech giant announced it will begin offering clients applications based on Project Debater. The system can autonomously group together similar documents and understand complex aspect of the human language, like idioms. A key role in bridging the gap between the two sides of the business are the data engineers, according to chief research scientist Ruchir Puri. Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Sign up here to receive updates on all things Innovation Inc. In June 2018, IBM pitted a robot against humans in two debates on telemedicine and space exploration — a publicity stunt meant to showcase the tech giant's AI prowess in an increasingly competitive market. Events like "Project Debater" are progressively more common for Big Blue. The first major even was in 2011 when IBM Watson — the company's signature AI platform — beat famed Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings at the trivia game. Alongside those two showcases, it is also preparing to launch an entirely robotic ship dubbed the "Mayflower Autonomous Ship," which is expected to cross the Atlantic in September with no humans on board. But while these consumer-friendly demonstrations draw eyeballs and media attention, the real value is in the applications that IBM eventually sells to corporate clients. The company is gradually perfecting how it translates buzzy research that can span up to 10 years into actual products, according to Rob Thomas, the general manager of data and Watson artificial intelligence at IBM. "The relationship is figuring out the right point in time when you start to grab stuff from the 3-5-10-year [research] road map and bring that into the 3-month, 9-month, 18-month" timeline for product launch, he told Business Insider. On Wednesday, for example, IBM announced that key parts of its Project Debater platform will now be available to clients. The system can employ natural language processing to cluster together groups of related documents, as well as understand some of the more complex aspects of the English language, like idioms. Such a task is difficult, as the meanings of phrases like "beat around the bush" go beyond the definitions of the specific words. Business Insider talked to Thomas and Ruchir Puri — a nearly 25-year veteran of IBM who was the chief architect of Watson and currently serves as the top scientist for the research arm of the organization — to learn how the tech giant bridges the gap between the two worlds. Bringing in the business At IBM, the conversation on the commercial side typically begins once the research arm publishes its technology outlook, an annual report that provides a high-level overview of all the different applications the company should be exploring. In 2016, for example, the report highlighted the expected differences between consumer and enterprise AI applications. While smart speakers, image analysis, and other tools were all the rage among consumers at the time, many companies were just exploring how they could adopt the advanced tech in their operations. IBM narrowed in on the goals it thought corporations would need most: evaluating the trustworthiness of the algorithms, automation, and natural language processing. "That was the broad canvas that was painted," Thomas said. "Research was fairly far down the path at that stage in terms of understanding those components." The commercial team has since released products in each of those buckets. A key role in bridging the gap between the two sides is the data engineer, according to Puri. And that's largely because those in the position understand how to take data, apply it to the applications under development, and make it useful for clients. "It is not about the AI expert and the data scientist. [IBM] must ensure that the line of business people, the key stakeholders, are all there" making the case for why the tools are important, he said. And data engineers are "probably one of the most critical personas" involved in those discussions because they can understand how the technology meets the business need. Learning lessons from Watson It hasn't always been smooth sailing. When IBM first started rolling out Watson to enterprises, for example, the company struggled to meet the hype it created in industries like healthcare. One reason it was so difficult is because IBM tried to create platforms that were company-specific, according to Thomas. Now, it's pivoting to broader solutions that can be used by multiple customers. "Once we have a feel for the core technology and the use cases, we turn that into much more focused client discussions," he said. Now, "for people that wanted their own version of it, we kindly said it's probably not the right thing for us. So it was really about focusing on the things we knew [the tools] could do well." So even when Project Debater was still in the research phase, the commercial-side of the business was already thinking about the potential applications — but it can take years before such technology is proven out. "There are often discussions before [launch], but they are very hypothetical. It was still a little bit theoretical. We didn't know for sure that [Project Debater] was going to work. We thought it was, but we didn't know for sure," Thomas said. "It took that maturing a bit to where we could actually start to formulate use cases." KPMG, for example, was already using Watson Discovery — effectively a search engine for companies that relies on the unstructured data stored internally across different verticals. But Thomas and the team knew a tool like Project Debater that could help cluster documents would amplify the platform for the consulting giant. So it went to KPMG and sold them on the latest upgrade. As more tech giants tout the success they've had in using robots to replace humans in increasingly complex scenarios, the ability to turn research projects into actual enterprise products will become even more important.SEE ALSO: Accenture's head of artificial intelligence shares the 4-step plan every company should consider before investing in AI Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: This animation shows how far your sneeze can actually travel
More like this (3)
IBM cancels its biggest event of the year over coronavirus fears, as it makes a new rule that employees can’t go to a conference with over 1,000 attendees
IBM has canceled its biggest developer conference of the year over coronavirus concerns. IBM Think was...IBM has canceled its biggest developer conference of the year over coronavirus concerns. IBM Think was set to be held in San Francisco in May, but it will instead it will hold a digital event. IBM also placed restrictions on employee travel, including limits on domestic work travel and a ban on attending events with more than 1,000 people. In a statement, IBM said: "The health of IBM's clients, employees and partners is our primary concern. In light of global precautions for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and building upon recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), IBM is taking a new approach to its signature events and adopting new travel policies." Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. As the coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, IBM is canceling its biggest developer conference, limiting employee travel, and restricting employees from participating in events with more than 1,000 attendees. IBM's client and developer conference IBM Think, which brought 30,000 attendees last year, was supposed to take place May 5-7 in San Francisco. Instead, IBM announced Wednesday that it will now hold a digital event with "live streamed content, interactive sessions and certifications and locally hosted events, which will highlight IBM's technology and industry expertise for developers and clients without the risk of travel." IBM is also placing new travel restrictions on employees through the end of March. IBM plans to suspend all domestic travel for internal meetings, and it plans to cut back on international travel to only "business-critical situations when virtual methods are insufficient." IBM is still allowing domestic travel for work with clients, although employees are encouraged to hold meetings virtually. In addition, if IBM employees have traveled recently to any restricted locations, they must inform their manager and self-quarantine for 14 days after their trip. "The health of IBM's clients, employees and partners is our primary concern," IBM said in a blog post. "In light of global precautions for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and building upon recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), IBM is taking a new approach to its signature events and adopting new travel policies." IBM is also withdrawing its attendance in the HIMSS health care conference in Orlando next week. Recently, there has been a false rumor spreading around about an IBM employee in Austin who has coronavirus, and IBM has been working to assure employees that it's not true. IBM's cancellation and new rules highlights how COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been causing widespread disruption and uncertainty for major tech companies. The outbreak has infected more than 95,000 people and killed more than 3,250, mostly in China. Companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have taken measures in response to the spread of coronavirus, such as canceling conferences, encouraging employees to work remotely, and conducting interviews virtually. Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at email@example.com, Signal at 646.376.6106, Telegram at @rosaliechan, or Twitter DM at @rosaliechan17. (PR pitches by email only, please.) Other types of secure messaging available upon request. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.SEE ALSO: Google Cloud cancels its biggest conference of the year over coronavirus fears Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How to find water when you're stuck in the desert
Automation 'kills jobs' but shouldn't scare workers, a top leader at a $1.3 billion software firm says. Here's how executives can get the workforce on board with the buzzy tech.
Companies go to great lengths to position automation as a technology that will benefit employees, not...Companies go to great lengths to position automation as a technology that will benefit employees, not replace them. Jason Kingdon, executive chairman of robotic process automation firm Blue Prism, however, said the tech "kills jobs." Companies can take steps to better communicate the impact of automation to employees, he told Business Insider. The Bank of Ireland, for example, hired an outside marketing agency to help with internal messaging when it was investing in the tech. Click here for more BI Prime content. Sign up here to receive updates on all things Innovation Inc. Companies take great strides to reassure employees that investments in automation and other advanced technology are not meant to be a replacement for human workers. But ask one of the leaders of Blue Prism — a company that aims to help companies automate common, repetitive, and mundane computer tasks — and you get a more direct answer. "It kills jobs, no doubt about it," Jason Kingdon, executive chairman at Blue Prism, told Business Insider. Kingdon is well-qualified to make such a statement. Robotic process automation — or RPA, which Blue Prism specializes in — is one of the hottest technologies on the market. Overall, the market is projected to reach $10.7 billion by 2027. Competitor UiPath, which last year went through a dramatic round of layoffs, won an eye-popping $7 billion valuation after closing a $568 million funding round. And tech behemoths like Microsoft are wading into the fray with their own RPA offerings. Blue Prism counts Ernst & Young, Accenture, IBM, Microsoft, and others as clients. But despite Kingdon's own thoughts, several prominent executives at those firms have cautioned against the potential for job loss due to the uptick in automation. No more 'sneaker brigade' Kingdon clarified that it's a certain type of job that is at risk — largely manufacturing jobs that are already gradually disappearing, seasonal jobs that are dependent on new government policies, and other positions tasked with basic functions that can increasingly be done more efficiently by machines. Banks, for example, used to hire what Kingdon referred to as the "sneaker brigade," or employees that were brought on to quickly bring the institutions up to speed on new regulations. That is not longer needed, he said, due to RPA. "That kind of stuff will disappear. The kind of stuff where you have to deal with multiple applications will disappear. And if you talk to the people that do those jobs, it's absolutely welcome relief," he said. Adoption of such tools, Kingdon argued, leads to higher job satisfaction. As employees become more accustomed to the applications, he said they become much more enthusiastic about it. It's not an uncommon talking point. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, for example, is positioning the tech as a way to improve work-life balance for its staff. But fear of automation is unlikely to subside. If companies are serious about actually implementing it, many need the support of their employees for it to succeed. That's why it's critical organizations make the effort to spend time figuring out how best to communicate the changes to rank-and-file workers. Kingdon — who has worked in the AI field for nearly three decades — outlined how Blue Prism is working with firms to make the adoption easier. 'This is the future' For Kingdon, there's no use in sugar-coating the impact of technology. "If you are in operations, this is the future," he said. Instead of trying to tip toe around the inevitable, he argued that exposing employees to the technology can actually eliminate many of the fears — largely because it shows them how much automation can improve their jobs. "You suddenly become part of the business in terms of the way that you're engaging customers and the way that you're designing process flows," Kingdon said. "When operations staff really get that it's like, 'wow, this is, this is the first time that we've got a real product that's for us.'" When Blue Prism helped the Bank of Ireland use RPA to make sure it was in compliance with new regulatory requirements, the financial institution hired an outside marketing firm to help message the switch to employees. Ultimately, a process that could have taken three years and an enormous amount of money, was completed for a fraction of the cost in less than one year, according to Kingdon. It was such a success that Blue Prism eventually brought on Brian Halpin, the former chief of RPA at the Bank of Ireland, as its global head of customer advisory. While such an approach may be too costly or cumbersome for other companies to employ, it shows how imperative it is for executives to consider how to message the tech investments to rank-and-file employees. SEE ALSO: A top UiPath exec called its recent layoffs a 'natural part of the evolution.' Here's how the hot AI startup now plans to scale in 2020. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Taylor Swift is the world's highest-paid celebrity. Here's how she makes and spends her $360 million.
Experts give IBM's new CEO the thumbs up: He could be the 'heavyweight' the company needs to really compete with Amazon and Microsoft
IBM's decision to name Arvind Krishna as its new CEO got the thumbs up from experts,...IBM's decision to name Arvind Krishna as its new CEO got the thumbs up from experts, who say the 29-year company veteran he has the technological chops and business savvy to lead the company. Krishna, who joined the company in 1990, will take over as CEO in April, replacing Ginni Rometty. Experts familiar with his record at IBM say he is an excellent choice to lead the company at a time when it is struggling to regain its luster in the tech world. "You need a heavyweight to compete with Satya [Nadella], Sundar [Pichai], [Mark] Zuckerberg and the tech giants," analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research told Business Insider."Customers need to know there's a tech leader with business experience, not the other way around," Wang added. Click here for more BI Prime stories. Arvind Krishna, the incoming CEO of IBM, is not as well known as the other executives at the helm of other tech giants. But shortly after he was named successor to Ginni Rometty, experts familiar with the role he played at the corporate behemoth called him an excellent choice. They say Krishna, 57, who joined IBM in 1990, has both the technological chops and business savvy to lead an iconic powerhouse whose star has somewhat faded amid big changes in the tech landscape. Krishna, who has a PhD in electrical and computer engineering, had served as a general manager and vice president of several key IBM divisions. He is currently senior vice president for cloud and cognitive software. He will take over in April. "You need a heavyweight to compete with Satya, Jeff, Sundar, Zuckerberg and the tech giants," analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research told Business Insider. He was referring to the heads of the other tech giants: Microsoft's Satya Nadella, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Google's Sundar Pichai and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. "Customers need to know there's a tech leader with business experience, not the other way around," Wang added. Those skills are important as IBM struggles to play a bigger role in cloud computing, where it has been outpaced by Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Krishna has been leading IBM's strategy which focuses on the hybrid cloud, and the $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat which is seen as a key component of that game plan. IDC President Crawford Del Prete called IBM's decision on Krishna "a great move." "Clearly IBM is leaning into the cloud, developers and future platform development," he told Business Insider. "In my opinion, Arvind is about creating a cloud-first world and developing products that support future customer development in the cloud." Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy also highlighted the role Krishna has played in evolving IBM's strategy amid emerging trends in technology. "Krishna spearheaded many of the next-generation IBM initiatives like the Red Hat acquisition, blockchain and quantum," he said. Krishna is expected to work closely with James Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, who has been named president of IBM. That's a good sign, Moorhead said, noting that it will be good for IBM to have "an outsider and a long-time IBMer running the company in the number one and two spots." Marty Wolf, president and founder of Martinwolf M&A Advisors, echoed a similar view, noting that both Krishna and Whitehurst share a common strength. "Krishna and Whitehurst are both experts in the cloud," he said. "Krishna led the company through its blockbuster acquisition of Red Hat, and we've seen just recently in its earnings statement that Red Hat is, or could be, IBM's future. This move enables IBM to be better equipped to capitalize on the growing cloud market, and potentially regain what it has lost." Got a tip about IBM or another tech company? Contact this reporter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, message him on Twitter @benpimentel or send him a secure message through Signal at (510) 731-8429. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: 9 items to avoid buying at Costco