IBM's Rometty Betting Big On Watson's Ability To Power 'Cognitive Era'

IBM's Watson supercomputer is poised to power the "cognitive era," which will have a transformative impact on digital-savvy businesses that can make sense of big data, CEO Ginni Rommety said Wednesday during a keynote address at CES 2016.

"What happens when everything and everyone in your business becomes digital?" Rometty asked. "Here at CES I look around and I see wearables, sensors, car tech. There is data everywhere. Digital is no longer a destination. It’s a foundation."

Companies need to understand the vast amount of data they already have along with data that isn’t currently being collected, such as video and sounds, she said. "Those companies that can understand that data will be at an advantage."

Rometty said cognitive IoT will be a huge focus for IBM in 2016, a road the company started down with the build-out of its big data and analytics capabilities, as well as its enterprise cloud platform.

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"People see IBM as a hardware, services and software company, and we are," Rometty said. "But we are more than that. IBM now delivers a cognitive solution, a cloud platform and has partnerships that help us reach hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- of people."

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Rometty disclosed key partnerships with Under Armour, Medtronic and SoftBank where IBM’s Watson supercomputer will be the back-end intelligence in what she called "cognitive IoT."

"The most disruptive and transformative trend is cognitive," Rometty said. "The ability to think, learn, and understand systems, products and processes is the dawn of a new era: the cognitive era."

IBM’s vision of cognitive Iot, Rometty said, was no better illustrated than with those new partnerships. Joined on stage by Under Armour’s CEO Kevin Plank, Rometty discussed how Watson can now crunch billions of bits of workout data of millions of users of Under Armour’s just-announced UA HealthKit system and existing UA Record system.

Plank said cumulative data from Under Armour’s activity tracker, heart rate monitor and scale would be used to help users better understand how behavior can impact health using IBM’s Cognitive Coaching System.

"There is a connection between sleep, activity, nutrition, weight and how do I feel," Plank said. "We thought we were a clothing company, but we are actually an IoT company," Plank joked.

IBM also brought on stage Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak who said that his company was now using IBM Watson to help patients with diabetes know three hours in advance when they might have a hyperglycemia incident. Using a behavioral tracking app, Ishrak said, people can better manage their own diabetes, potentially saving billions in health care costs associated with managing the disease.

IBM also announced Wednesday that Watson’s cognitive learning powers will be leveraged by SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper robots for global enterprise customers. IBM says Watson-powered Pepper robots can interact and assist customers in retail environments.

Sharing the keynote stage with Rometty was Kenichi Yoshida, vice president of business development at SoftBank Robotics, who welcomed a Watson-powered Pepper robot to the stage to demonstrate how Watson could help both engage naturally in a conversation and allow Pepper to answer nuanced questions easily.

Rometty said Pepper illustrated how robotics had a promising future beyond cars, manufacturing and vacuuming living rooms. Cognitive IoT can help robots evolve to be in-class teaching assistants to a nursing aide, Yoshida said.

"I have been around for a while, and when I compare the trajectory of [cognitive computing] with any other technology in my lifetime -- including the PC and Internet -- more has been done in cognitive computing than has been done in the past decade with any of those other technologies," Rommety said.

For IBM, Rometty said, the cognitive IoT road started with building big data and analytics capabilities, building a cloud platform for the enterprise that spans public, private and hybrid environments, re-imagining how work is done. "Today IBM has the world’s largest enterprise solutions for cognitive IoT."