What happens when you bring a dog to a tech conference

Cloud. Cognitive. Wearables. IoT. DevOps. Analytics. Blockchain. Big data. It’s all very exciting, but when you’re at a big tech conference like IBM InterConnect, with 25,000 attendees buzzing around, it can feel overwhelming too. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget where we, as humans, fit into the equation amidst all the technological innovation.

Meet Ed. 14 month-old yellow lab who’s just too stinkin’ cute for his own good.

This year, I had quite a different conference experience, and it was all thanks to Ed, a 14-month old yellow lab with a big head, silky ears, and an adolescent spirit. He sat, licked, laid down, tugged, sighed, sometimes barked, and did dog things. He’s also an aspiring guide dog.

Ed comes from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization which breeds, raises, and trains guide dogs for the visually impaired. Guiding Eyes has recently teamed up with IBM to glean more insights from its mountain of genetic and behavioral data using Watson, with the goal of increasing the success rate. Currently, as few as 36% of their dogs succeed in becoming guides, and at about $50,000 per dog to raise and train, even a 10% increase would mean a world of difference. Read more about this project here.

Jane Russenberger, Director of Genetics and Breeding at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, with Ed, who was calm and unfazed during the whirlwind of InterConnect 2016.

Jane Russenberger, Director of Genetics and Breeding at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, came to IBM InterConnect to talk about this exciting collaboration. We thought that bringing Ed to the conference would help the story come to life, and it certainly did just that. What we didn’t realize was that Ed would also help the conference-goers just be more…human.

Industry executives, sales people, developers — no one was immune. They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw Ed; they cooed, they awwed, they showed us photos of their own dogs, they talked about the dog they had growing up, they wanted a selfie with Ed to show their kids — and suddenly their own story came to life. In an instant, anonymous badge-wearers in the crowd divulged their fondest memories and bits of their life story, and became human. A dog anywhere will brighten a room, but at a tech conference, it was a sight to behold.

Ed and his raiser, Lorraine Trapani, IBM Executive Program Manager for Government and Regulatory Affairs. Ed is the fourth puppy Lorraine has volunteered to raise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, preparing them for their final training phase.

These are the moments that I think people who work in tech live for. The moment when the buzzword, the gadget, or the latest innovation actually feels real, rather than complicated, theoretical, and removed from actual life. It may not mean much to many people to say, “Watson will use cognitive insights from data to pair more guide dogs.” But when you look into a pair of big puppy eyes, suddenly you understand.

Ed is a real dog. He likes scratches on his belly, he’ll lick your face if you let him, and he’s training for a very important job. We are excited and hopeful that Watson will give Guiding Eyes for the Blind the insights it needs to pair more dogs like Ed with the visually impaired, because in the end, it’s the real dog that makes a difference in a person’s life.

This post was written by Carolyn Rogers, Client Reference Manager for IBM Cloud and a dog-less dog-lover. She looks forward to having a dog when she’s no longer stuck with a no-pet lease.



To read 2017 IBM Cloud Stories visit http://ibm.co/2iKoD4d .

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