AI in the Workplace: How IBM Watson is Breaking New Ground

Since antiquity, humans have been captivated by the idea of artificial intelligence. Mechanical figures instilled with a manmade intellect appear in early Greek, Egyptian, and Chinese mythology. In recent memory, robots have driven the plots of many beloved science-fiction books and movies, sometimes threatening humanity, sometimes saving it. If real life is stranger than fiction, it’s also more complicated. As we watch the true story of AI unfold, there’s never been a more exciting time for people working in AI consulting services. While the big players in tech like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have focused on harnessing AI for social, domestic, and commercial use, IBM has zeroed in on a different frontier—the workplace.

You may remember IBM Watson from a 2011 Jeopardy! episode when the room-size computer bludgeoned its opponents at trivia, drawing laughs from the crowd by choosing, in its flat, robotic voice, the category “Chicks Dig Me.” Or perhaps you remember the commercial where Watson gives Bob Dylan its succinct, cheeky analysis of his entire body of work, which can apparently be boiled down to “time passes and love fades.” Despite these cute overtures to the public, Watson is more than a glorified Siri or Alexa. Rather than scour the internet for information to answer a question, Watson actually “knows” the answer. Thanks to deep learning technology, Watson can both read and process language. This is the capability that allowed Watson to win Jeopardy! and discuss lyrics with Bob Dylan, and it’s the capability that is at the heart of Watson’s workplace innovations.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Watson’s shift to the workplace is its versatility. Watson promises increased effectiveness in every field, from marketing to medicine. With the help of AI consultants, Watson’s deep learning technology can be adapted to virtually any industry. The New York Times reported on a study conducted at the University of North Carolina where Watson was used to review 1,000 cancer diagnoses, but in “30% of the cases, Watson also found a treatment option the human doctors missed.” The sheer volume of research papers published each year makes it impossible for any one doctor to read everything, but not for Watson. The ability to absorb, process, and analyze vast amounts of data and translate it into useful information has exciting implications. While Watson’s work for oncologists signals huge leaps for AI in healthcare, the same technology is being adapted to help farmers, building managers, advertisers, supply chain managers, factory workers, hiring managers, and small business entrepreneurs hoping to boost customer satisfaction, just to name a few.

It may seem obvious that Watson’s powers can be harnessed in scientific research-based fields, like healthcare and agriculture. However, Watson can be adapted to help in other fields, too. For example, recruiters and hiring managers can take advantage of IBM Watson Recruitment, technology that both streamlines recruiting efforts and helps find the best match. What really sets Watson apart in this area is its ability to help hiring managers eliminate a strictly human trait—unconscious bias. By analyzing data, Watson can reveal unhealthy trends in company culture, which is the first step to reversing negative trends. Hiring managers use Watson to promote diversity and inclusion in the hiring process, a goal that is both morally admirable and proven to boost productivity. In other words, it’s a win-win.

For marketers, Watson’s powers are seemingly endless. Effective marketing is the result of data-driven analytics, and no one processes and analyzes data like Watson. With predictive marketing insights, target audience recommendations, and ability to advertise across multiple platforms with a few clicks, Watson has the proven ability to reach more potential customers. Watson can even work with elements that were previously out of human control, like the weather. With WEATHERfx, marketers and business owners can use AI to “leverage the powerful connection between weather and emotion to deliver messaging that drives consumer action.” The ability to sync your business’s events and messaging to something as fickle and temperamental as weather signals a shift in the way companies do business.

The bottom line is that industries are just beginning to understand the potential of IBM Watson’s power in the workforce. The advantages are tangible. For supply chain professionals, Watson can use data to unveil any blind spots on the chain, revealing weak links and opportunities to reduce costs. For businesses that rely heavily on equipment, Watson can closely monitor the health of a machine, tracking how well an elevator is functioning or warning a farmer that a tractor will soon need maintenance. These practical applications don’t only make a business more effective, they make the work safer for employees; an implication that feels like a far cry from the menacing AI of sci-fi dystopias.

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