Perspective: Is IBM Watson all it's cracked up to be?

What if IBM Watson's promise — to be an understanding, reasoning, learning and, in a sense, thinking machine — is emptier than it sounds?

"[I]n short, IBM is offering an expensive tool that might help corporate executives troll through lots of data and try to divine commercially relevant strategies. It suggests that, 'When your business thinks, you can outthink' the competition," Paul Levy, former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, wrote in a post for The Health Care Blog.

Mr. Levy suggests that the IBM Watson platform has spent a good many years struggling to find a viable industry niche, and that the "thinking" capabilities that IBM has branded it with may be a touch off base. Although Watson is capable of crunching, searching and analyzing enormous amounts of data based on its question-answering computing system, all that might add up to is more precise answers than other technologies can currently offer. Those answers may be significantly more precise, but still not close to human capabilities, and maybe not worthy of being labeled "thought."

Mr. Levy cites a New York Times column by Stanley Fish, in which he wrote: "Far from being the paradigm of intelligence, therefore, mere matching with no sense of mattering or relevance is barely any kind of intelligence at all. As beings for whom the world already matters, our central human ability is to be able to see what matters when."

The way that IBM Watson has chosen to promote its product, services and capabilities may be an example of "ineffective corporate thinking," Mr. Levy wrote, the same kind that has yielded the company thirteen consecutive quarters of declining revenues.

Read the full post here.

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