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Big Data has Met its Match with Cognitive Computing: Say Hello to Watson - See the Demo

Last week, our friends and partners at IBM invited the GLG team to participate in the grand opening of IBM Watson’s global headquarters in Manhattan. Right at home in New York’s “Silicon Alley,” the flagship played host to a day of IBM Watson presentations and demonstrations, all focused on unlocking the potential of Watson and the paradigm shift it represents: cognitive computing. But what is cognitive computing? It is probably easiest to start with what it isn’t.

Computing’s Wonder Years

The first revolution of computing was brought about by the invention of tabulating machines, allowing humans to process large volumes of data at a markedly more rapid pace. Census results, scientific calculations, and corporate accounting were just a few areas that saw massive productivity gains through the use of these machines. Ultimately, though, they were still highly dependent on human operators and manual processes. Life-changing? Yes. Cognitive? Nope.

The next revolution is one that has defined our relationship with machines for the past six decades. Beyond automated tabulation, the modern computer is able to extend human productivity exponentially through the power of computational processing and programming. Powerful as these systems are, though, they aren’t cognitive. They aren’t able to learn or reason the way a human can.

Watson Changes All of That

You may be familiar with the Jeopardy! Challenge from 2011. Watson faced off against two flesh-and-blood Jeopardy! champions—and won. The challenges that the game show format poses for a cognitive computing system are significant: Watson had to understand questions posed in natural language (including slang, jargon, and puns) and determine the correct answer. Perhaps equally impressive is that just like the human opponents, Watson was unable to connect to the internet for the contest, relying instead on data it had stored and accumulated over the previous years. This is the essence of cognitive computing: a system with the ability to not only search its own extensive knowledge base for answers but also understand that a Jeopardy! category called “Chicks Dig Me” is a cheeky reference to female archaeologists.

Jeopardy! showed what Watson could do when pitted against humans, but at the event last week, we were able to see something even more exciting: what Watson and humans can do when working together. Inside IBM’s “Immersion Room,” a stunning 360-degree screen on the fifth floor at Watson headquarters, is the potential for Watson to assist medical doctors in diagnosing diseases. The demonstration visualized how Watson is able to ingest a massive amount of medical research, and then swiftly draw connections between the obscure and unusual symptoms presented by a patient and a variety of possible diagnoses. Watson weighted the results by confidence level and presented them to the doctor, leaving the ultimate decision and treatment in the hands of a human. The message? What may have taken days for a doctor to do alone, Watson enabled her to do in minutes.

Watson at Work

We also heard from businesses who are taking products and services built around Watson to market right now, and each offered a unique spin on humans and Watson working together to create a powerful experience.

- Terry Jones (of Travelocity/Kayak fame) is using Watson to create a new type of travel search called WayBlazer. WayBlazer will allow customers to search for travel tips using natural language, like “Where should me and five of my friends go for a guys’ weekend in Denver?”. Watson suggested things for them to do based on weather and time of year, and offers up the type of hotel where like-minded visitors typically stay.
- Red Ant’s SellSmart offers a mobile app that empowers retail salespeople to learn on the job and offer smart recommendations to customers by asking questions in natural language.
- LifeLearn’s Sofie app allows veterinarians to consult Watson for help with diagnosing animal ailments, eliminating the need to scour Google for answers or call colleagues for answers at 3 in the morning.

Groundbreaking Platform Now an Exclusive Part of GLG’s CSUITE

The most exciting takeaway was that this is not the stuff of science fiction, nor is it a promising prototype that is years away from practical application. Cognitive computing is here, today, and The Garrigan Lyman Group is one of only three agencies chosen by IBM to bring Watson to life in marketing and advertising. In fact, the GLG/IBM Watson team has already developed three apps specifically for GLG clients. Watson is part of the CSUITE GLG marketing platform, meaning you could begin to put the power of cognitive computing to use for your business right now.

Interested in a Watson demo or a tour of the IBM Watson laboratories? Contact me at