IBM Kicks Off ‘Cognitive Business’ Era on MNF Tonight

IBM’s Jeopardy-bombing AI superstar Watson has been shunned by marketers as too much computer for the job. Suited to the job of curing cancer, yes, but for general business it’s like buying a Ferrari for a job a Lexus could do. IBM, apparently, disagrees.

During tonight’s broadcast of Lions-Seahawks on Monday Night Football, IBM will usher in its “Era of Cognitive Business,” replacing the “Smarter Business” branding flag it has waved since 2008. Watson (with supporting work from Bob Dylan and Jeopardy stalwart Ken Jennings) will be the spokesbrain of the new strategy.

In the opening keynote presentation at the Direct Marketing Association’s &THEN Show in Boston yesterday, IBM’s SVP of marketing and communications Jon Iwata said the 1.0 version of Watson was created to make a point. “In 2011, IBM built a computer that played Jeopardy and that did one thing very well—natural language processing and machine learning. Today that capability is one of 28 and these are now APIs,” Iwata said. “Watson is no longer a box. It lives in the cloud and these capabilities can be called into any digital process or system.”

Unstructured data is the frontier Watson has been charged with conquering, Iwata said, vowing that it is up to the task of scanning terabytes of minutiae to help marketers chisel nuanced customer profiles. The Concept Insights API moves search beyond mere keywords, divining what people are really seeking out by their language patterns. Personality Insights draws individual essences from text. Tone Analysis derives people’s emotional states from language cues.

The road-ready Watson can inform marketers along the entire path to purchase, Iwata claimed. By way of example, he said that beta-tester Equals3 used it to discern both aggregate and individual intelligence on prospects via social media. The digital agency asked Watson for ‘men mentioning Audi in tweets in Austin,’ and received in kind a demographic and psychographic breakdown of the segment as well as a media analysis suggesting the best ways to reach it.

Many more Watson APIs are in development and will be available by year’s end. “Watson is now growing eyes, getting at the meaning behind visual content,” Iwata said. “So much of content today is visual.”

Indeed, Watson uses his new eyes in greeting his Jeopardy nemesis Jennings in one of the commercials debuting tonight. Jennings is impressed and Watson tells him he’s also been helping doctors cure cancer. “Is that all?” Jennings asks, to which Watson adds he’s also learned Japanese. “I was being sarcastic,” Jennings says. “I haven’t learned sarcasm yet,” Watson replies. 

In another spot, Watson sums up Dylan’s career, saying he’s read all his lyrics and that “My analysis shows that your major themes are that time passes and love fades.” Says Dylan: “That sounds about right.”

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