IBM has revealed four new users of its Watson artificial intelligence technology, demonstrating how cognitive computing can be allied to big data across diverse business sectors.
The firm announced at CES 2016 in Las Vegas that performance sportswear company Under Armor is using Watson to take data from athletes about activity, nutrition and sleep, and apply natural language-based analytics to provide personal health advice.
The Cognitive Coaching System uses Watson’s power to track the behavioural and performance trends of athletes by pulling data from Under Armour mobile apps and fitness tracking devices and creating customised exercise and health programmes.
It will also ingest data on weather and environmental conditions taken from geospatial and news sources to measure how they affect training. Watson's ability to use image recognition will be used to log an athlete’s food intake rather than require them to manually input what they have eaten.
Watson will effectively be used by Under Armour to create a digital personal trainer and health consultant in the form of an app.
Staying on the theme of health, IBM announced that Pathway Genomics has released an app called OME that has Watson APIs at its core.
The app pulls information on diet, exercise and metabolism from Pathway’s Fit Test app, along with data from GPS, wearable health monitors and Apple’s HealthKit. Future versions of the app will allow users to add electronic health records, insurance information and other personal data into OME, according to IBM.
The aim is to provide insightful information about wellness, and offer precise recommendations to improve health in an actionable way.
Moving on to something more left field, Big Blue showcased a version of Watson for SoftBank Robotics' Pepper, a child-sized robot that uses social media data, video, images and text to find meanings in data that can be used to assist people in retail environments.
Watson's language capabilities mean that Pepper can have natural conversations with people rather than respond to pre-programmed phrases and commands.
IBM will also offer Watson in SDK form so that the cognitive computing technology can be added to other robots and tailored by developers to fit custom applications and uses.
Finally, IBM revealed that home appliance company Whirlpool is using Watson with its connected home appliances.
The aim of the partnership is to add a cognitive computing layer to crunch data from the appliances to optimise the products and create new services for users.
IBM and Whirlpool did not go into any detail about these services, but it could address things like smart home automation and energy consumption.
Building out adoption
The announcements show IBM looking to push Watson into as many sectors and use cases as possible as the firm builds out its cognitive computing capacities and adds new features. The more use cases it has, the more likely it is to evolve, potentially becoming something of a true artificial intelligence in the future.
Lauri Saft, vice president of Watson Ecosystem at IBM, said in an interview with V3 at IBM's Insight event that much of Watson’s future involves external developers putting it to use in various applications across different sectors.
"We're seeing these patterns of combined APIs that the partners are using as recipes [for application development], and we are publishing these recipes back to the partner community," she said, noting how developers create use cases for Watson that others adopt and build on.
"Our goal is to hand these tools over to partners to build [cognitive applications], not to inform our own roadmap of [products].
"When we look at the growth of Watson, the idea is how we can get this into the hands of everybody no matter their experience, be it in your doctor's office, training with your personal trainer, or with the retail associate you are interacting with."
IBM’s ambitions for Watson are suitably lofty. The firm claims that Watson can overcome humanity's limitations and change business forever.
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