By Manoj Saxena
Social and technological shifts are driving rapid change, altering ways in which individuals interact with one another, learn, and attend to their personal and business needs. These shifts offer the potential to strengthen the relationships between companies and their customers—enabling more individual and directed communication and allowing organizations to cater to individual needs. Yet, for many, today’s online customer experiences lack personalization, timeliness and trust.
But what if companies could offer their customers the kind of personalized and knowledgeable assistance when they’re online or on the phone that people have come to expect from top-flight customer service delivered in person?
We believe that a new generation of cognitive systems will do just that. They will provide individuals with intelligent personal digital assistants that interact with them, answer their questions, and help them make complex purchasing decisions or solve problems they’re having with products like cell phones, computers and consumer electronics devices.
A first step in this journey happens this week, when IBM introduces the Watson Engagement Advisor. The technology underlying this service is based on IBM Watson, the computer that beat former grand-champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!. Our research and development staff has made Watson 75 percent smaller, 25 percent faster, and have been working hard to improve Watson’s ability to answer consumer-oriented questions. For the first time, with the engagement advisor, we’re bringing Watson to the masses.
Consumers will be able to experience this new level of personalized service through the brands they already have relationships with—their banks and investment advisors, their phone service providers, insurance companies, favorite stores and other trusted organizations. For instance, a bank might offer Watson directly to customers on Web sites and mobile devices to help give them insights regarding retirement and various types of savings instruments like 401K accounts. An individual may begin a dialogue with Watson on their smartphone, but continue later from where they left off on their PC or tablet. Alternatively, a telecommunications firm could equip their call center agents with Watson to assist customers in troubleshooting a problem with a product, service, or billing issue.
These amazing new capabilities are the next steps on the journey to the era of cognitive systems. We at IBM foresee a dramatic improvement coming in the way people interact with organizations and the role computers will play. The cognitive systems of the future will provide deep reservoirs of knowledge and sharp insights combined with an understanding of needs of the individuals they’re serving. The result will be transformational—helping people and organizations interact, learn, grow and make better decisions.
Since shortly after Watson’s debut on Jeopardy! two years ago, IBM has been improving the technology and finding new uses for it. Our early efforts focused on particular fields, such as health care, where cognitive capabilities can help physicians and patients make more personalized decisions about treatment and care. Now, with the IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, we’re widening the scope that the technology addresses. It’s gratifying and exciting to see how rapidly this technology is developing. And, as far as I’m concerned, this is just the start. This next era of computing is going to touch all of our lives in positive ways we can’t yet imagine.