What’s coming next on top of IBM’s Watson super computer and hybrid-public cloud offerings? “Unlocking the horsepower of analytics in the cloud to solve data problems in education, energy research, and healthcare.”

So says Kevin Eagan, chief experience officer and general manager of digital experiences at IBM in an exclusive interview with WRAL Techwire.

Eagan, interviewed at the NCTA State of Technology event in Durham, said that together, IBM’s Watson and its cloud make computing power available “to the masses.” Where once, only a few large companies could afford IBM’s industrial strength computing, now, it is “available to the masses.”

IBM’s super computer, Watson, is built upon the industrial strength computing legacy of the IBM mainframe. That foundation of the world’s most powerful computer platforms and industry expertise, Eagan said, helped lead to “Making Watson part of everything we do.”

Investment area about to explode

Accessibility is a big part of what IBM is doing now, too, he added. “We have dozens of starter kits available for Watson now,” Eagan said. “They enable a builder inside an organization, a startup or company to rapidly have access to Watson.”

One area about to “Explode as an area of investment,” according to Eagan, is AI used in bots. “Some of the most powerful and cognitive and artificial intelligence applications are coming to market through bots. Chat bots, customer service bots, customer support. And for many people that seems to be a very mysterious technology.

The Watson Virtual Agent framework is available to literally anyone who can go online and use it in a domain they are experienced with, and create the beginning of a bot for machine learning, speech to text, or other areas that solve a real business problem, Eagan noted.

IBM sees Watson solutions as becoming an advisor to experts, he added. “Instead of looking at it as artificial intelligence, look at it as aggregated intelligence. It synthesizes knowledge from across the world. So it can create the best cognitive advisors in medicine, education, energy, healthcare. If you’re a reporter, teacher, doctor, in the next generation you’ll have a Watson advisor to help you do your job better.”

Hands-on experience opened eyes

IBM brought a few hundred of its executives, from those newly minted to those with 30 years experience together at an annual planning meeting and during a break, tried an experiment.

“They took off their coats, put on t-shirts and got hands-on with Watson Virtual Agent,” said Eagan. “In a couple of hours each team was able to build a bot. Then, they saw what it would be like building it on a competitor’s platform. It opened their eyes to the fact that IBM had become a different company.”

The distance between the power available to a huge company and to a startup has changed. “IBM is closing that gap,” said Eagan. “It is making powerful technology more affordable and accessible on an Enterprise platform that is secure.”

The Quantum Experience

Security is one of the differentiators of IBM’s cloud offerings, he said at several points. Not just security against hacking, but also data privacy from other cloud tenants.

Among other things, Eagan said the IBM cloud was designed from the bottom up to support AI, cognitive computing and huge data loads. “It’s optimized for cognitive workloads,” he said.

Watson is not the only IBM super-computing project available for developers to try. It’s “Q-Experience” opens up Quantum Computing from IBM research. “It’s now possible for innovators, academics and businesses to have access to the technology,” Eagan said.

“The Q-Experience is one of my favorite sandboxes to play with. It’s well done, built on top of the Bluemix structure. It’s available for running experiments and learning on IBM’s public platform.


Update: Working from home

We asked how the IBM effort to call back its remote workers to the office was going.

“Bringing people together in a community through technology or a co-location allows unscheduled insights and innovation,” Eagan said. “It happens when people work close to each other. Some of the highest innovations come from communities such as our campus in the Research Triangle. We recognize the power of concentration and collaboration. We think right now we have the right balance of physically and technologically connected communities.”

More about Watson

  • VIDEO: Watch a video about Watson’s “thinking sculputre” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuZiZtmkRX4