In the shuttles, taxis, pedicabs and by foot, the startups and entrepreneurs are moving around SXSW Interactive here in Austin, Texas from venue to venue, talk to talk, bar to bar, creating real-time networks, hoping to move their visions forward.
While chatting with a couple of them yesterday it dawned on me: What could these young, smart companies do with Watson technology? I mean, here are the innovators of the next generation and at their disposal will be Watson or Watson-like tools. I wondered how could they see this kind of technology fitting into their solutions and visions? So I decided to ask them just that and post their thoughts on the blog throughout the conference.
First up are Michael Richardson, Senior Engineer at Urban Airship who I met sharing a cab, and Reginald Pulliam, Founder of FindmeChicago.com who chatted with me outside of one of the conference’s hotels:
Michael Richardson, Senior Engineer at Urban Airship (Urban Airship’s platform helps developers and businesses get the most out of their apps by making them more engaging, profitable, and relevant): “Many young companies face the challenge of building out infrastructure for proper data analytics systems. As adoption of our platform has expanded, we’ve found ourselves with unprecedented access to data about our user base. We recognize the value of this information, and are working to interpret it to better understand our users and to provide interpretations of this data to developers and publishers using our platform. However, this requires a significant investment in both engineering skillset and infrastructure build-out. Rather than focusing on an implementation of distributed map-reduce and natural language processing systems, access to Watson’s technology could enable us to bypass such a buildout and focus directly on the product.
Applications designed to drive and measure customer recommendation and engagement stand to benefit substantially from IBM’s Watson technology. Watson could enable companies like Urban Airship to rapidly determine the potential efficacy of a given mobile notification based on prior user responses, and provide recommendations before a message has even gone out. Historic data on user interaction in an application could help drive tailored campaigns respecting both privacy and user preferences to increase engagement. Real-time natural language processing and semantic analysis opens up revolutionary opportunities in business intelligence and user experience. Watson’s combination of natural language processing, massive distributed in-memory map-reduce and confidence estimation make the technology extremely interesting for any startup with access to a large behavioral data set.”
Reginald Pulliam, Founder of FindmeChicago.com (FindmeChicago.com is an online destination that enables potential customers to discover businesses they may not have known about previously): “Visitors to my web site interact with the information on the page in the standard web browser paradigm: point, click, scroll. The site is accessible (508-compliant) in only the most basic way, and has not been tuned for maximum accessibility.
If I had the use of Watson for a week, I’d implement it in a way that lets visitors search and interact with the website completely hands-free (voice recognition), but also in a way that takes advantage of Watson’s intelligence for responses and recommendations. A quick example would be a user searching the site for restaurant recommendations and Watson returns one, or maybe two vetted choices. Harnessing Watson’s technology to give highly refined search results through voice interaction that makes getting answers from the web as easy as asking a real person who actually knows your answer.”
I will be chatting with more startups throughout the day tomorrow and at the Innovators and Entrepreneurs reception at 6 pm featuring a presentation by Watson lead researcher Dr. David Ferrucci to hear more application ideas (reminder: all SXSW Interactive badge holders are welcome, just remember to register here). I’ll also be at the live demonstration and technology talk on Watson at the Smarter Planet Summit on Wednesday so look for more posts in the coming days.
(ps. If you’re a startup at SXSW Interactive this year that I don’t happen to meet in a cab, hotel or bar, or if you’re a startup somewhere else on this planet, feel free post your answer to my question in the comment section below. I’d love to hear how you’d use the technology.)