In a few months from now, or at least sometime next year, a few IBM partners will release a series of software products that will be unlike anything people have encountered so far. Instead of doing a task for you through a software program, these products will prepare you instead to do that task yourself. You could ask the computer about your health, a home purchase, or a travel plan. You don’t need visits from sales executives for product briefings. The computer will gently guide you to make the right choice at the right time.
Currently, these products are being built around Watson, the famous IBM computer that won the Jeopardy championship. To be precise, it is built around a more compact and powerful machine than the Jeopardy champion. IBM threw open this machine to programmers on the cloud three weeks ago to build products and services in a few industries to begin with. IBM has applications from 200 potential partners, including a few from India, focused initially on healthcare, financial services and travel. “We are trying to build an ecosystem of partners around Watson,” says Jay Subrahmonia, vice-president of development and delivery, Watson Solutions at IBM.
IBM calls it cognitive computing, to distinguish it from the more common term, artificial intelligence. It is purportedly the next wave of computing, infinitely more powerful and long-lasting than any other computing wave we have seen. It changes the way we interact with computers, the reason we use computers, and also the way we program computers. It is a big business opportunity as well. Just the global healthcare market for such systems is projected to increase from $201 million now to $239 billion by 2019, according to the market research firm WinterGreen Research.