The IBM-developed artificial intelligence computer system named Watson is capable of answering questions posed in natural language. It was specifically developed to answer questions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! In 2011, the supercomputer competed on the sitcom against two former winners and won the $1 million prize.
Eric Brown, a research scientist with IBM, is responsible for the creation and tutoring of Watson. Its purpose was, as an artificial intelligence, to beat the Turing test. This means that if Watson were to chat with a human and that person could not tell whether the correspondent was man or machine, then Watson would pass the test.
It caused havoc after making obscene outbursts after memorizing the contents of the Urban Dictionary. The website contains slang that is part of informal conversation today, but is not considered appropriate for polite conversation. So great was the damage that Watson’s programmers had to wipe out its memory after they could find no way of stopping the supercomputer from swearing profusely.
As Watson formulates replies based on the working of several supercomputers together, it had put together some words and started responding to many of the questions posed with bulls***.
Watson couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity – which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bulls***” in an answer to a researcher’s query.
Ultimately, Brown’s 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny it will be to get artificial intelligence to communicate naturally. Brown is now training Watson as a diagnostic tool for hospitals. No knowledge of OMG required.
For the IBM programmers working on Watson, that was certainly a very interesting day at work.
IBM reported its earnings for the third quarter of 2012 yesterday, with its net income growing to $3.8 billion, nearly flat year-over-year, and its revenues shrinking 5% to $24.7 billion. Most of the decline in revenue growth can be attributed to the economic slowdown in Europe and other parts of the world.
Virginia Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO, said:
“In the third quarter, we continued to drive margin, profit and earnings growth through our focus on higher-value businesses, strategic growth initiatives and productivity.
Looking ahead, we see good opportunity with a strong product lineup heading into this quarter and annuity businesses that provide a solid base of revenue, profit and cash. We are reiterating our full-year 2012 operating earnings per share expectation of at least $15.10.”
IBM makes money primarily from three segments — services, software and hardware. Its technology services revenue declined 4% to $9.9 billion while business services revenue declined 6% to $4.5 billion.
Software revenue declined marginally to $5.8 billion, while hardware revenue totaled $3.9 billion, down 13% year-over-year. The global financing segment contributed $472 million to its top line.
IBM’s cash and cash equivalents grew to almost $12 billion this quarter.
It has been over 60 years since the term AI was first coined. Since then, the elusive human brain has fascinated us with its learning capabilities. The massively parallel network of synapses and neurons is practically impossible to replicate and that is why, there is no public record of a human brain being fully replicated with its full learning capabilities. The human brain has not gotten any better at improving itself in the last 60 years either (you can blame evolution for being slow), but we have created wonders using this brain, and “computational power” is undoubtedly one of those wonders.
But, what if we can build a machine using computational power that has the same learning capabilities as that of the brain? There are a number of limitations to that, though the biggest limitation is the remarkable power efficiency of the human brain. The cue is in massive parallelism. Currently, there is a well-known project by IBM known as the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE), which aims to achieve this goal in AI with its DARPA funding and IBM expertise. However, Google just sped ahead of IBM in AI, with its research at the Google X laboratories. Google’s neural network is built out of 16,000 computer processors, and is capable of performing complex tasks. One of those complex tasks is looking for cute cat pictures on the Internet, and the impressive fact is that the network has learned to search for these pictures on its own, without it being told to do so.
Thanks to the wealth of cat videos on YouTube, the cyber-brain eventually came to a single dream-like image representing the network’s knowledge of what a cat looks like. The network was able to then able to recognize its favorite thing — cat videos, no matter what subtle variations merry YouTubers come up with to their feline’s appearance.
In short, although rough, the network has successfully simulated the human visual cortex. David A. Bader, the Executive Director of High Performance Computing at Georgia Tech College of Computing claims that the visual cortex can be simulated fully within this decade.
IBM is one of the latest tech giants to have scooped up a company in the booming social enterprise software space. It has acquired Kenexa, a social human resources, talent acquisition and management software company, for $1.3 billion.
Kenexa’s software enables corporate customers to handle performance management, compensation, career development, leadership training and all such boring HR stuff with a social twist. Kenexa is one of the more formidable players in the enterprise cloud apps space led by Salesforce.com. IBM competes with the likes of Oracle and SAP, who are also trying desperately to gain a foothold in this market. Oracle recently acquired Taleo, while SAP acquired SuccessFactors in a bid to dominate the space.
Kenexa’s products are used by more than 9000 companies across industries, and will complement IBM’s existing offerings.
IBM’s official statement says:
“The acquisition bolsters IBM’s leadership in helping clients embrace social business capabilities while gaining actionable insights from the enormous streams of information generated from social networks every day.
Kenexa, a leading provider of recruiting and talent management solutions, brings a unique combination of Cloud-based technology and consulting services that integrates both people and processes, providing solutions to engage a smarter, more effective workforce across their most critical business functions.
Kenexa complements IBM’s strategy of bringing relevant data and expertise into the hands of business leaders within every functional department, from sales and marketing to product development and human resources. As a result of this synergy, clients will be able to attract and develop the right skills to build the right teams, for the right projects, the first time.”
Facebook is in a very vulnerable position right now, from a litigation point of view, as it is now in its SEC mandated quiet period right before its much awaited $100 billion IPO, and also because it hardly has many patents to defend itself against patent trolls and aging internet giants like Yahoo looking to make a quick buck by suing the hell out of more successful, but younger players who don’t have a huge patent portfolio to defend themselves.
It recently acquired 750 patents from IBM, primarily to defend itself against such litigation, but that may not be enough, and it may need to buy some more.
On the other hand, you have AOL, a dying relic of the dot-com bubble. Its market cap has shrunk to a fraction of its market cap in its glory days, and the value of its business may possibly be less than its patent portfolio.
It has 700-800 really important patents according to its CEO, with half of them incredibly important for internet users. This could be the ideal patent portfolio for Facebook, as it has a lot of patents related to fundamental internet technologies, IM, email, webpage rendering, search engine technology etc.
While AOL seems to think that the value of its patents is more than $1 billion, a patent advisory firm has estimated its value at only around $290 million. This could make it a very easy purchase for Facebook, which has around $4 billion in cash and marketable securities, and is set to raise another $5 billion in its IPO.
Yahoo recently sued Facebook for patent infringement over some ridiculous patents which shouldn’t have been issued in the first place, and was apparently expecting Facebook to approach it for a settlement instead of duking it out in the courts during its quiet period before the IPO.
However, instead of starting talks for a settlement, Facebook has gone on the offensive itself. It has bought around 750 patents from IBM for an undisclosed amount, presumably to defend itself from litigation by Yahoo and other patent trolls. Instead of licensing patents from them for a fee, it will now look to cross license its newly acquired patents to them.
Facebook now has over 800 patents – 56 of its own, and the 750 it acquired from IBM. It also has 503 pending patent applications. It is good to see Facebook fighting back against these bullies, but other startups who are not as deep-pocketed as Facebook may not be able to. That is precisely why the patent system in the U.S. needs to rebuilt from scratch.
Update: Apparently, Yahoo has a license to many of IBM’s 750 patents, but the exact terms of licensing are not known.
IBM announced in a press release yesterday, that they have made “major advances in quantum computing device performance that may accelerate the realization of a practical, full-scale quantum computer.” Such a computer would run circles around any supercomputer in existence today.
IBM made their presentation at the March meeting of the American Physical Society. Quantum computing has been a dream scientists have been chasing for years. The problem is that when you hear the word “quantum” you’re dealing with atomic and subatomic particles. These particles have a tendency to be unstable. IBM researchers have made huge strides in getting these tiny particles to stabilize. The practical applications for quantum computing are seemingly endless. The reason is because quantum bits can be made to exist in several states at once where traditional bits used in today’s computers have basically two states, on and off. These multiple states will give computers the ability to compute millions of simultaneous computations. Check out the video below to see the concept explained by IBM researchers.
The exciting thing about this announcement from IBM is that the quantum computer is not as far away as we once thought. What was once thought to be 50 years off is now possibly 10 – 15 years away. Having this kind of computing power will help us with predicting weather, unlocking mysteries of the human genome, and even help secure computers with massive encryption. It’s like the future is now!
In 2005, Lenono acquired IBM’s PC business to instantly become the third largest PC supplier in the world, edging out Dell and others who were also vying for the massive and profitable division.
Now, Samuel J. Palmisano, who has successfully led IBM through the past decade, has revealed that Lenovo was picked as a buyer due to political considerations. Palmisano fought off intense internal opposition against selling the PC division as he was convinced that the real opportunity to innovate and shine was elsewhere. His decision led to IBM losing its title of the world’s largest information technology company, but resulted in generating more value for shareholders.
Palminaso revealed to NYTimes that he deflected overtures from Dell and private equity firms and sold to Lenovo to please the Chinese government. The Chinese government wants its corporations to expand globally, and by helping Lenovo fulfill that national goal IBM was hoping to get into the good books of the government. China, where the government still wields a large amount of influence, is a lucrative market for IBM. The Chinese government is also a stakeholder in Lenovo thanks to investments by the state-owned Chinese Academy of Sciences.
After trouncing people at Jeopardy!, IBM’s supercomputer Watson is all set to take on the bright students from MIT and Harvard as it faces off against them in a trivia match. The competition will be held at the Harvard Business School’s Burden Auditorium, tomorrow, i.e. on 31st of October, 2011. The competition is called the IBM Watson Challenge.
The competition will be preceded by a symposium about Watson’s creation and future of technology at the MIT Media Labs titled The Race Against the Machine: The Future of Tech. The challenge is aimed at showing how technology can change, and is indeed changing, business perspectives, said Professor Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT. The Symposium will also have a keynote address by David Ferucci, the father of Watson.
The competition and a bit of rivalry
Coming to the actual competition, there will be three teams one from MIT Sloan, one from Harvard Business School and the other being Watson fighting it out in the middle. The MIT Sloan team was chosen via playoffs. The Harvard students were chosen by two Jeopardy alumni. Each team has three students. As for Watson, it won’t be the full-fledged version, but a toned down one. IBM assures that it will be just as competitive.
Watson aside, the rivalry between MIT and Harvard will definitely be there. The palpable tension of the friendly competition is evident from the statement by Brynjolfsson, who wants a large number of MIT peers to attend the event, so as not to be outnumbered by the hosts Harvard. As many as 200 MIT students are expected to attend.
The MIT Center for Digital Business is sponsoring the event. We sign off by saying what Brynjolfsson said:
We recently reported that Google acquired more than 1000 patents from IBM in July. Ever since Google and its partners have been hounded by heavyweights like Apple, Microsoft and Oracle, it has been trying to bulk up its patent portfolio for self-defense. It recently acquired Motorola for $12.5 billion, primarily for its massive patent portfolio. But apparently, that hasn’t been enough.
Today, according to a report by SEO by the Sea, Google bought 1023 patents from IBM, in addition to its earlier purchase. Records from the USPTO indicate that the date of the acquisition was August 17, 2011.
Google recently transferred some patents to HTC, which will help it in its lawsuit against Apple. It is now taking on a more proactive role in defending its partners, which are being wooed by Microsoft to adopt its Windows Phone 7 platform.
This recent purchase includes patents related to Java, wireless patents and web and search related patents. On the surface, it looks like it could help Google against all three – Apple, Microsoft and Oracle.
IBM has traditionally possessed one of the greatest patent portfolios, while Google hardly had any, compared to Microsoft or Apple. In the last couple of months, Google has considerably added to its portfolio and now has a portfolio comparable to Microsoft.