My odyssey through the 2011 SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas wrapped up today with the Smarter Planet Technology Summit featuring a live demo of Watson.
While the demo of Watson playing against Richard Garriott, entrepreneur, astronaut, game-maker, collector of everything under the sun, and Nick Barbaro, founder of the Austin Chronicle and mega-organizer co-director of SXSW was the headliner for the summit, there were some serious ‘rubber hits the road’ discussions with experts on the topics of cloud computing, smarter cities, early stage start-ups and smarter energy. And there was a penguin.
The Watson demonstration moderated by David Shepler, IBM Research‘s Jeopardy! Challenge Program Manager, took the audience inside the logic swirling behind the pulsating orb that we all know and love. He also discussed how the technology could be applied to other fields, such as medicine. After this intro, Shepler took us on a Watson test drive with Garriott and Barbaro (who quickly enlisted help from the entire audience!). The play was fun, but knowing a bit more about what was going on inside the computer and how it will be applied down the road, made the demonstration deeper. (for details, check out the smarterplanet twitter feed, hashtag #ibmwatson)
Afterwards, Shepler took questions from the curious audience which concluded with a question from a penguin-dressed onlooker. The penquin, who I think was Jim Van Meggelen, asked a costume-muffled question about Linux (I think) and then waddled away before I could track him down. (Watson runs on Linux, btw).
Just prior to the Watson demo, the Smarter Cities discussion looked at how Corpus Christi with the help of Esri and Austin are becoming smarter cities by interconnecting city systems better and using analytics to better understand the needs of the city. The Smarter Cities Challenge, which Austin received a grant for in 2010, was also discussed.
An earlier panel on cloud computing was moderated by Dave Mitchell, IBM Director of Strategy and Emerging Technology. Panelists discussed how businesses are improving their bottom line through the use of a cloud for services and applications as well as collaborating better with their partners. As an example, the panel talked about how a complete cloud-based supply chain management system that lowers costs for every link in the chain was built by IBM and TradeCard.
Rounding out the summit were two panels: One on resources for early stage startups led by Jani Byrne from IBM’s Venture Capital Group and a second, led by Mozhi Habibi, IBM’s Energy and Utilities manage of global strategy, on Smarter Energy. Habibi moderated a discussion with panelists from eMeter and CenterPoint Energy who talked about how they, working collaboratively with IBM, are creating one of the industry’s first intelligent utility networks.
Byrne’s panel on startups touched on how entrepreneurs can avoid common mistakes that might hinder their growth, how they can secure funding and how to leverage low or no-cost resources. As you know from reading my previous posts, IBM is a solid supporter of entrepreneurship as shown by its $150 million partnership with StartupAmerica, as well as through the IBM Global Entrepreneur program which, among other things, sponsors the 2011 IBM SmartCamp startup competition in 9 cities and 8 countries which is about to get started. (Note to startups: You probably should seriously consider applying for the competition nearest you. A full schedule and application can be found here. Last year’s winners are already getting headlines.)
Some final thoughts on SXSW: The enthusiasm and innovation I saw at SXSW over the past few days (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) reminded me of what Dave Ferrucci, Watson’s lead researcher mentioned to me in my interview with him earlier in the week: He talked about ‘the irresistibility of the impossible.’ That’s what I saw here in Austin. And I bet I’ll see it again at the IBM SmartCamps. I say let’s continue to stoke it.
Well, that’s all for today. Thanks SXSW and Austin for a great time, and thanks to all the startups for sharing with me their ideas and visions. Keep thinking about ways we can build a better, smarter planet. It’s important. I look forward to our continuing discussion on the topic online and off.
something else that’s important: Throughout SXSW Interactive, and on our People for a Smarter Planet Facebook page and smarterplanet twitter feed, a call to action to help the people of Japan by contributing to Red Cross’s relief efforts was made. I’d like to keep that call going and encourage you to do what you can to help out. Thanks, K.