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What should technologies like IBM’s Watson and Google’s Knowledge Graph mean to you?

by Tom Austin  |  April 24, 2013  |  Comments Off on What should technologies like IBM’s Watson and Google’s Knowledge Graph mean to you?

I’ve seen the future … and now it’s within grasp. It’s going to impact your life and your work before this decade is out.

We just published a note entitled Exploit the Intersect of IBM’s Social Business and Solution Selling Strategies

A part of that note, probably one quarter, dives into what has been fascinating me for many, many years. There’s only so many features you can stick into an email program or a content editing tool. Particularly if you’re text-centric. Where do we go after the 177th version of a personal productivity tool suite? The 34th iteration of instant messaging? The 500th document database? So much of what we’re doing now is reinventing and refining what we were already doing in the pre-client-server era. Back in the late 80’s at Digital Equipment, we had a vision and architecture for compound documents in GUI environments…how many more iterations of that do we really need?

There’s more coming, very different. It’s not a new kerning tool. Or the next great slide transition mechanism. It’s about the rise of smart assistants. Natural language processing. Semantic analysis. Massive parallelization. Rule-based systems with machine learning. Pattern recognition and matching. Marry that to the scale of what Google can do and what IBM, with Watson and co-development partners can do.

Start with Google. Witness, for example: 

Then look at IBM. Witness, again, for example:

  • Watson — as in Ken Jenning’s declaration on Jeopardy “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords
  • Consider the Watson “Oncology Treatment Advisor”. IBM co-developed it with Wellpoint who is now selling it. It’s narrowly focused today on lung and breast cancer cases. It digests hundreds of millions of pages of published research and other reference data, considers the patient’s data (such as diagnostic test data, prior treatments and broader history) and suggests to the clinician a list of alternative treatments to consider. The list is ordered — based on a calculated likelihood of success — and provides access to all the relevant information the system has considered in constructing each recommendation. 
  • IBM is also working with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and others on additional, very narrow but high-value use cases in various medical fields. Other co-development projects are under way in other industries.
  • This isn’t just about game shows and slights of programmer-hands! 

Google Now represents analysis of a longitudinal array of information about what you do, where you go, what you say, who you pay attention to and whom you interact with across time so that Google (and, for that matter, Siri, it’s cross-valley competitor) can predict what you will need in your current context — before you even know it. There’s a staggering amount of personal information it can mine.

This isn’t just the Apple Knowledge Navigator reborn.

And then there’s Watson and the techniques IBM is using to evolve future generations of its capabilities…

I see radical change coming — glorious and depressing, liberating and enslaving, enriching all and only a few. This isn’t necessarily the optimistic world of Brynjolfsson and MacAfee’s Race Against The Machine..

How is this going to affect your organization (IT)? Your enterprise? industry? economy? society? What do you counsel your children to pursue as a career? as their passion?



Tom Austin
VP & Gartner Fellow
20 years at Gartner
41 years IT industry

Tom Austin, VP, has been a Gartner Fellow since 1997. He drives Gartner's research content incubator (the Maverick Program) and is leading a new research community creating research on the emerging era of smart machines. Read Full Bio

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