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Jeff Kagan: How IBM Watson and H&R Block Can Push AI Forward

AI could help you save a bundle on your taxes...
Equities columnist Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.
Equities columnist Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.

Photo via Mike Mozart & Clockready

When I attended the IBM World of Watson event in Las Vegas last October, I was bowled over by all the big-name companies, hospitals, executives and stories in countless industries that were starting to use this new AI technology. I have followed Watson and AI and can see how amazing it is. With that said, I also believe IBM (IBM) is making a mistake that will be costly to them going forward. So, let me offer some advice for the future of Watson and AI.

H&R Block (HRB) and MD Anderson are two examples in the news that capture the ups and downs of Watson. H&R Block prepares taxes. They have started to work with Watson to help customers get every penny of tax relief they qualify for. Since this is related to finance, not health, there is no reason users would feel uncomfortable using AI to help them pay less taxes. That’s why I believe this will be a successful move for H&R Block. The question is, will this be a good move for IBM Watson?

H&R Block, MD Anderson Use IBM Watson and AI

MD Anderson is in the medical and healthcare world. They have been working with Watson for a while, but are now stopping for a variety of reasons we won’t get into in this piece. Healthcare is an area that Watson has specialized in from the start. Watson has helped saves lives by helping doctors better evaluate data and that is great. However, there appears to be somethings that does not fit well with MD Anderson.

These two examples show the rocky road ahead for both IBM Watson and AI. Two steps forward and one step back. The ups and downs. So as amazing as Watson and AI seem during their presentations at the World of Watson, we must understand the road ahead may not be a smooth runway.

What People Think of IBM Watson and AI

However, it could be much more successful if IBM does this the right way. When you ask people about AI and Watson, you get mixed reaction. Some love it. Others hate it. Those that love it, appreciate the advanced technology and the ability for it to enhance and improve our lives and builds businesses. Those who hate it, fear the unknown. They don’t like the real invasion of privacy that new technology is creating and being written about in the news.

They are also worried about what they have learned about AI over time from Hollywood. One example, the movie “Terminator” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Another example, the movie “I, Robot” with Will Smith. Countless movies show how AI is something to be feared. That’s one core problem IBM and Watson need to solve.

IBM Watson and AI Take Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

So, it would seem Watson is having both a good and bad time of things lately. And this is the way things will go over the next several years as AI moves ahead and stumbles. I firmly believe AI will continue to grow and we will eventually all feel comfortable with it. After all, we didn’t like the idea of ATM machines when the banking industry launched them a few decades ago.

AI like Watson push this fear and uncertainty to a whole new level. I think if we look ahead a few decades, AI will be as normal as smartphones are today. Think about how smartphones are an invasion of privacy, yet how we all still use them. Smartphones like Apple (AAPL) iPhone and Google (GOOG) Android started exactly ten years ago. Today they are just devices we all carry and use.

So, we as a people are getting used to new technology quicker than ever before. However, there is always a fuzzy middle ground that lasts for several years and it’s crucial the public relations and media cover all that is great and amazing about this new technology. This is the only thing that will help us build a bridge over the gap between yesterday and tomorrow.

And this is the point I want to make with you here. Watson and AI is a brand-new technology. Watson will help us think faster and deeper than we can on our own. That is all great. However, IBM must spend as much time focused on presenting Watson in a positive light in order to change the perception from bad to good. They must correct the misperception in the marketplace.

IBM Watson Chain Only as Strong as Weakest Link

IBM is not doing a great job at marketing, advertising and public relations with Watson. They are not explaining and preparing us for how Watson will change our world and benefit us all. This is something they should be focused on right now.

IBM should realize Watson and AI scares the hell out of many non-techies. Not everyone works for IBM. Not everyone understands AI. Not everyone feels comfortable with AI. This is the weak area for IBM. They don’t seem to understand this weak link. And you know what they say, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Two Mistakes IBM Is Making with Watson

The second big mistake IBM is making, is letting Watson ebb and flow into the consciousness of the marketplace. They were introduced several years ago on Jeopardy, then they disappeared. Now they are back and going to be used by H&R Block. That means the only way the marketplace will wrap its mind around Watson is with H&R Block. That’s like trying to describe a buffet table with only one dish. It can’t be done.

That means IBM will have to correct the mistake they are making with their brand awareness and AI recognition in the marketplace. This will hurt IBM. This will set their marketing efforts back.

What they should do is have a major coming out party involving many different companies in many different industries. Shake up the marketplace. Confuse the marketplace. Create an awareness that Watson will play a role in every industry and countless companies. That’s the best way to start this new ball rolling.

With that kind of chaos, users, investors, partners, everyone, will have to create an entirely new pegboard to hang AI ideas on. This will give IBM what they want. It will create a new marketplace which they can then lead in.

Instead, taking these tiny steps in one direction or another will only keep the marketplace confused. It will be good for H&R Block, but it won’t expand the understanding of Watson and AI in the marketplace. And that’s the point. I only hope IBM executives realize this misstep and correct it sooner rather than later.

Jeff Kagan is an columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at [email protected]. His web site is Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan

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