What ever happened to IBM’s Watson?
IBM insists that its revamped AI strategy — a reduced-down, less world-changing ambition — is working. The task of reviving the development was assigned to Arvind Krishna, a computer scientist who became chief executive last year after leading the recent overhaul of IBM’s cloud and AI businesses.
But the grand visions of the past are gone. Today, rather than being shorthand for technical prowess, Watson stands as a grim example of the loss of technological hype and pride around AI.
As artificial intelligence marches through the mainstream economy, it turns out that there will be more step-by-step growth than a cataclysmic revolution.
a new wave to ride
During its 110-year history, IBM has introduced new technology and sold it to corporations. The company was so dominant in the mainframe computer market that it was the target of a federal antitrust case. PC sales really accelerated after IBM entered the market in 1981, favoring smaller machines as essential equipment in corporate offices. In the 1990s, IBM helped adapt its traditional corporate customers to the Internet.
IBM executives came to see AI as the next wave of the ride.
Mr. Ferrucci first presented Watson’s idea to his mentors in 2006 at IBM’s research laboratories. He thought that building a computer to tackle a question-and-answer game could advance science in an AI field known as natural language processing, in which scientists program computers. Recognizing and analyzing words. Another research goal was to advance techniques for automated question answering.
Overcoming initial doubts, Mr. Ferrucci assembled a team of scientists — eventually more than two dozen — who worked out of the company’s lab in Yorktown Heights, NY, about 20 miles north of IBM’s headquarters in Armonk.
What Watson built was a room-sized supercomputer with thousands of processors running on millions of lines of code. Its storage discs were filled with digitized reference works, Wikipedia entries, and electronic books. Computing intelligence is a brute force affair, and the hulking machine requires 85,000 watts of power. In contrast, the human brain runs about 20 watts.
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