I went to the IBM Watson summit. This is what I have to say about it.

Wednesday the 14th of June started off like any other day. However, this day had something special in store, my first real contact with all that IBM Watson has to offer. I had a basic understanding of its possibilities, at Ignation we work with Watson on several projects as well. But it’s always reinvigorating to see industry leaders and world class innovators talk about/discuss the possibilities of cognitive.

The general theme of the summit boiled down to one thing: Digital Disruption. Which basically translates to:

  1. Get off your ass and get to work
  2. You’d better work fast
  3. Don’t be a copycat… STEAL!
‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’ Pablo Picasso

But digital disruption is a story for another day. Instead let me take you on a tour of the 2017 IBM Watson Summit in Amsterdam.

There’s only one way to start off the day, with a cup of coffee. The coffee was delicious, but that’s not what grabbed my interest. How I ordered the coffee, now that was interesting. Usually you walk up to the barista, say you want a ‘Double Mocha Frappuccino’, however here the barista was replaced by a rather inquisitive Ipad, that asked me weird questions like whether I preferred the Beatles or the Stones (very difficult question). Or if I would choose a 2-seater over a 4-seater if I had the choice (not really a sports-car kinda guy). Based on my preferences Watson decided what my taste in coffee was. And I have to admit, that cup of Joe was pretty damn tasty (Which was prepared by a real live human being btw).

We then went on to listen to a few talks by IBM on what Watson can do for you as a business. All very interesting, but not what I came here for. I wanted to see real examples of how people/businesses are using Watson.

The first session I visited was by RAMLAB’s CEO, Vincent Wegener. RAMLAB’s mission statement:

Industrial spare parts should always be available wherever they’re needed, whenever they’re needed.

The time required, and cost of manufacturing industrial spare parts is significant to say the least. So RAMLAB decided to start 3-d printing industrial objects like a ship’s propeller. Now you might ask, where does Watson fit into this? Well, Watson keeps track of the entire printing process, you can imagine that printing a 800 kilo ship propeller is going to take a while. It would be extremely labour intensive to have someone check the printing job every step of the way. Watson takes care of this, a camera checks the entire process, and will stop the machines if anything seems to have gone wrong. Just imagine how much money this could potentially save on industrial parts, but more importantly how much more flexible you are.

… Lunchtime!

After a delicious lunch of sandwiches, chocolate and popsicles I decided to make another round around the premises. I had a go at VR for the first time. IBM had created a virtual office, the first step was to get into an elevator and select a floor. The moment I pressed the 3rd floor button I almost instantly regretted it. Apparently I’m one of those people whose body is not really built for VR, and almost fell over. I soldiered on though, and went through the visual simulation. While it was a cool (read: frightening) experience, I didn’t really see how this VR experience was related to Watson. My colleagues told me afterwards that it served as a demo for all of Watson’s functionalities. So you could for example link a chatbot to a virtual assistant within the VR environment. Pretty cool.

My next stop was Watson beat. Watson beat is an application which is able to listen to or analyse any piece of music and create a song of its own. Grammy-award winning producer Alex Da Kid and Watson collaborated on a song which actually hit the billboard charts. Now as a self-proclaimed musician I’m not too sure what to think about this, does Watson really have the emotional capacity to create songs that people will love? Judge for yourselves →

On to the final two sessions of the day.

The first session was by a startup called Nine Connections, whose aim is to make your employees into the most powerful brand advocates on social. This application uses Watson to find patterns in social media behaviour, and makes recommendations to its users on what to share and what to post. For me personally this application would be quite useful. I feel like I don’t have the time to scour the internet all day for relevant articles or posts that my network could possibly like, even though I definitely know that the impact of social sharing can be massive.

The honour of my final session of the day was reserved for Charlotte Wytema, who is a project-assistent for ‘het Mauritshuis’, one of the most prestigious museums in the Netherlands. The issue they face is that all of these extremely beautiful paintings are also very interesting, meaning there’s too much information to place on an information panel. So what they’re doing is using Watson to analyse all possible questions that visitors might have about a specific painting, and coming up with a correct answer. This way visitors will no longer be limited to a tour guide, or to the information panel on the wall, but they can ask anything they want, and Watson will give them the answer.

All of these impressions will take a while to sink in. So I decide to grab one final Watson recommended coffee… Still good coffee.