Why SIRI And Not Watson?

by Linda Bernardi

Why SIRI And Not Watson?SIRI is defined as: Siri is a voice-activated app that works with the iPhone 4S and iOS 5 to allow users to take action on their iPhone by speaking. Siri can understand not just basic commands, but also the colloquialisms that are common to human speech. Siri can both speak back to the user and take dictation–transcribing voice to text.

Watson is defined as: Watson is an IBM supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software for optimal performance as a “question answering” machine. The supercomputer is named for IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson. The Watson supercomputer processes at a rate of 80 teraflops (trillion floating-point operations per second). To replicate (or surpass) a high-functioning human’s ability to answer questions, Watson accesses 90 servers with a combined data store of over 200 million pages of information, which it processes against six million logic rules. The device and its data are self-contained in a space that could accommodate 10 refrigerators. (Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Watson. Watson is used to drive a point re the need for large enterprises to be far more agile, given the massive innovation capacity which they posses.)

Our first impression, of course, is that SIRI is much more suitable as an app. Turns out SIRI continually learns (the programs running SIRI are constantly evolving). And at first glance, Watson seems extremely complex and complicated. We all remember Watson at the famous jeopardy TV game…we were all blown away. Imagine the possibilities that Watson can offer.

Why SIRI And Not Watson?

In large enterprises such as IBM, there is an amazing capability (technical bench) toinvent and innovate. Thousands of patents per year. However, simplification and market penetration is a difficult task. What if there had been baby-Watsons (Watson Jr’s) by now? What if we reduce the complexity to enhance market penetration and productization at a much more agile and rapid rate?

To be agile, we have to learn that perfection is not the objective. Evolving/improving over time is the goal. SIRI was far from perfect a few years ago. The market is OK with that. The desire by large enterprises to be ‘perfect’ is counter-constructive and the major obstacle slowing down the rate of innovation, by the highly capable large enterprises. Get it out first, quickly and improve rapidly, constantly and transparently.

I spent the first 12 years of my career at an amazing thinktank, BBN, in Cambridge Mass. When I arrived at BBN right out of grad school, I was like a kid in the world’s largest candy store. Thousands of world class and multi-disciplinary scientists and thought leaders. We solved highly complex problems for the commercial and government sector. While the technical bench in the company was superbly rich and we were able to recruit the very best (and the company had been in existence for decades), we were not agile, nor did we think in terms of commercializing our products. Our thought process was based on complexity, very much like we see in Watson. Examples:

  • By 1990 we had a world class voice recognition systems (operational at airports such as Logan in Boston), but did now know (or want) to commercialize
  • By 1991 we had voice over IP, way ahead of it’s time, but could not think of mass commercialization (simplification)
  • We had the leading parallel processing computer, Butterfly, but we did not how to mass commercialize
  • We had the world’s first data analytics products, but did not think in terms of the commercial market needs
  • BBN was fully operational on the internet by mid 1980’s (years ahead of the world) but did not consider the ‘what-if’ scenarios
  • We had hundreds of patents that could have been commercialized
  • And many more examples such as this which I can share with you.

BUT, by 1995, BBN was broken into parts and sold off to various buyers. What did we learn? We were not able to commercialize our innovation. Does not matter how ‘smart’ you are as a company if the world can not CONSUME your products!

Strength is not about complexity, but to survive and grow. Companies need to be agile and be able to productize their inventions by turning them into consumable innovations which equals products. The number of patents are not consequential. Think of the patent garage sales at Motorola, Kodak and many others…

Now think about what could have been…?


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