​Jeff Kagan: Why IBM Watson May Be Losing the AI Spotlight

Jeff Kagan  |

Image via Clockready/Wikimedia

You’ve got to love the idea of IBM Watson. The super-computer using advanced AI to learn everything, faster and better than any human being could ever hope to do. The hope is it would help us solve some of our most pressing problems. One of IBM’s  (IBM) high-profile challenges was their desire to cure cancer. Unfortunately, it has not happened. Not yet anyway. Why not?

It has been quite a long time since 2011 when IBM Watson made its debut on the TV game show Jeopardy. They have been building this technology for many years before that introduction to the world. Ever since, IBM has found numerous ways to promote Watson.

IBM Invited Me to Be Speaker at World of Watson Event

They invited me to speak at their IBM World of Watson event two years ago in Las Vegas. This was an incredibly big and very impressive event with loads of partnering companies and technologies all trying to share with the world how important Watson has become and where it will go.

They got everyone all whooped up into a frenzy over the future of Watson. They punched their way onto the radar of the marketplace. They wanted everyone to post comments to their social networks like Twitter  (TWTR) and LinkedIn  (LNKD). They wanted reporters and the media to cover the event and write about how they were dazzled. They were trying to start a runaway wildfire.

During the event, everyone I spoke with was impressed. Mesmerized in fact. They had big name speakers from all over the world. They had a US Government official, CEO’s of large corporations, chief surgeons and heads of hospitals and medical agencies from around the world.

PR Mistake: IBM Watson Put the Cart Ahead of Horse

In the middle of all that excitement, while I was impressed to say the least, there was still something that was nagging at me. Something that said they are putting the cart ahead of the horse. Talking about how great AI will be is great. However, there needs to be a there, there. And that seemed to be missing.

Rather than move ahead one step at a time, IBM wanted to jump over several years and several steps. They kept talking about the future and how Watson and AI will transform the world. The mistake was they were not at that point yet.

Talking about the future is what analysts, columnists and speakers like me do. That seems to be where IBM went off the tracks and that is where the problem seems to be coming from. They made a big PR mistake.

If this all turns out the way they hoped, Watson could indeed change the world. However, after several years it still seems to be just in the hope stage. It seems very little has actually been accomplished. At least very little has been written about it.

Where the IBM Watson PR Disconnect Is

So, putting the cart ahead of the horse, is not panning out well for IBM.

This is the way things go in the technology world. Things take some time to settle in and transform an industry or sector.

After all, the first iPhone was really no big deal. Over the next several years, as consumers jumped onboard, it became the incredible success story we know today. The iPhone is roughly eleven years old. That’s it. And it has completely redefined the entire smartphone segment along with Google Android and Samsung Galaxy after a few short years.

Watson made its debut seven years ago. And while it is still an amazing technological accomplishment, they have hardly made a dent in the marketplace.

PR Recommendations for IBM Watson

So, I recommend they work on their PR strategy. They should continually be working on improving Watson and their PR efforts should be taking us through the journey with them, step-by-step. Leave the forward-thinking pieces to people like me to talk about.

It’s not that IBM has not tried. They have invested billions in development and promotion. However, with all that they have yet to break-out as a winner like iPhone, Android and Galaxy.

So, what is the future of IBM Watson? It uses advanced artificial intelligence to work its magic. AI is increasingly working its way into our lives, deeper every day. AI is real and countless companies are now using it. In fact, AI is one of the fastest growing technologies and many more companies enter the space every day.

So, seven years ago when Watson was introduced to the world, it was futuristic. It was like science fiction. It captured the imagination of the marketplace. We all loved what the new potential of AI would be to our world.

However, after that is where IBM Watson went off the tracks. That’s the trouble they’ve been dealing with ever since.

Today, AI is becoming a more recognizable term and more of us are understanding how this technology will continue to change and improve our lives.

By this point in time, IBM Watson should be the leader in the space. But beyond the huge flawed PR effort, what has Watson really accomplished?

The Real Future of IBM Watson AI Technology

There is a real future for a technology like Watson. IBM wants to make Watson an important part of our tomorrow. They are good people working very hard to make that dream come true. And I hope they are successful in doing so.

However, today I see little real accomplishment to match their PR. They don’t seem to have make a dent in the cure for cancer.

Sure, Watson has done some things that are important for many people, companies and countries. That’s good. I want to congratulate and thank them for this win.

This is what they should be talking about and also mentioning what is to come. That’s the mistake they are making.

With that said, the question is, how important will Watson be going forward in a world that has loads of other competing AI accomplishments as it continues to advance at light speed.

Will IBM Watson Remain Leader in AI Space Going Forward?

So, the next question is this. Will Watson remain the leader in AI going forward? Unless IBM can help Watson jump from promotion to really helping our society with AI, I think they will remain a player in the space but will drop from the leadership position.

Remember, this has happened before in other industries. Consider wireless handsets. Motorola was the leader for decades. We thought they would remain a leader forever. However, they had a mis-step in the 1990’s and lost their first-place position to Blackberry, Nokia and Palm. Next, they led for a decade until the Apple  (AAPL) iPhone and Google  (GOOGL) Android were both introduced a decade ago.

What happened next? Blackberry, Nokia and Palm quickly dropped from the leadership position and were replaced by iPhone and Android. Time has shown us that leadership can be fleeting.

That’s the question and concern I now have. Watson is still a great idea. However, with their seeming lack of wins and advancement in recent years, and the explosion of other AI technology from other companies in other industries in countries all over the world, the marketplace is getting louder and more crowded.

Can IBM Watson remain a leader in AI or have their misguided PR efforts ruined that for them. I think Watson will be a player in the world of AI. The real question is will they be the leader that IBM wants, or will they just become one of the average players in the increasingly crowded space.

Jeff Kagan is an Equities.com 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 jeff@jeffKAGAN.com. His web site is www.jeffKAGAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan.

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