IBM, Apple, bring Watson into the iOS enterprise

Machine intelligence in an iPhone

Apple, IBM, Watson, iOS

The transformative potential of the iOS enterprise took a huge step forward this week, with IBM giving iPhone users in-app access to the powerful cognitive capabilities of IBM Watson, using MobileFirst for iOS apps.

Intelligence inside

This is yet another dramatic outcome from the Apple/IBM partnership, which has already established Macs to be far, far cheaper to run than Windows machines, including system purchase costs. This latest move seems likely to have a profound impact in a huge range of real world situations across multiple industries and reinforce Apple’s growing position in enterprise IT. The move means, “made-for-business apps now have the ability to understand, reason and learn based on deep data analytics,” according to IBM.

I spoke with Mahmoud Naghshineh, general manager, Apple partnership, IBM, he explains: “Cognitive insights are at the fingertips of professionals. These made-for-business apps can now understand, reason and learn, pulling from deep data analytics. We're making the apps smarter so the professional can make better, more informed decisions.”

IBM Natural Language Processing, Watson Conversation and other Watson APIs have been optimized to work with iOS 10’s speech framework. “Any Watson API can be integrated with these made-for-business apps based on a client's specific use case -- the possibilities are endless,” said Naghshineh.

Profound transformation

How might this work in practice? Naghshineh suggested a service technician working on maintenance would be able to use verbally ask the Find & Fix app to look up suggestions on how to solve an equipment problem, enabling him to keep his attention is on the piece of equipment, “a hands-free solution when he needs it most.”

As I predicted last year, when used with an app that offers Apple Watch support, the technician should be able to call up this kind of intelligent support while keeping their phone in their pocket.

“Cognitive combined with mobile is transformational -- it will change how professionals interact with enterprise apps to help move any business, and, ultimately, any industry forward,” Naghshineh said.

Contextual awareness is coming

What’s critical is that Watson is smart enough to listen, learn, and make increasingly refined suggestions in reaction to situational need – it’s not yet contextually aware, but that’s the direction of travel. IBM explains the system can “interact naturally, learn from interactions and surface meaningful insights from huge amounts of data.”

You see, while voice assistant tech like Siri or Google Now are basically comprised of pattern matching and voice recognition tied to a number of stock questions and potential answers.

Cognitive computing as evidenced by Watson is a more powerful beast. It delivers a comprehensive set of capabilities based on technologies such as machine learning, reasoning and decision technologies; language, speech and vision technologies; human interface technologies; distributed and high- performance computing; and new computing architectures and devices.

“Watson continuously learns from previous interactions, gaining in value and knowledge over time,” IBM said. The system can sense, create conclusions, and learn from experience. In future I imagine we’ll see Siri and Watson become even closer in their capacity.

“When integrated, these capabilities are designed to solve a wide range of problems, boost productivity and foster new discoveries across many industries,” said IBM.

A question of ethics

For all the starry-eyed potential, IBM knows that these forms of artificial intelligence are the zenith of digital transformation, likely to have profound impact on our society. “AI systems are augmenting human intelligence in every field, and will ultimately transform our personal and professional lives,” a statement provided to me by IBM explains.

“We are likely to see robots integrated into society in the near future as shop assistants, receptionists, doctors, bartenders and also as carers for our elderly and children,” said Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of AI and Robotics University of Sheffield.

“We recognize that AI systems are powerful, and like all powerful tools, great care must be taken in their deployment,” says IBM. “Our job as a technology company and a member of the global community is to ensure, to the best of our ability, that cognitive technology we develop is created the right way and for the right reasons. To this end, IBM is engaged in several efforts to advance our understanding of issues affecting the ethical development of artificial intelligence, including serving as a founding member of the Partnership on AI – an organization committed to establishing best practices for AI that benefits people and society.”

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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