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IBM Watson Assistant Debuts With ‘Enterprise’ Ambitions Far Beyond Connected Home

Watson Assistant can be embedded in any “thing” – a car, hotel room, retail store, conference room and more – offering consumers new levels of convenience as they live, work and travel, says IBM Watson's Kareem Yusuf.

While IBM has been expanding its artificial and Connected Intelligence marketing with Watson Ads over the past year with an agnostic approach to working with voice activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or “Okay Google,” the company is introducing its own conservational helper that is aimed much more broadly at consumers and businesses.

IBM Watson’s voice activated AI-powered assistant, named I-Vie (pronounced “Ivy”) sounds was unveiled at the IBM Think 2018 conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

I-Vie is billed as “a smart enterprise assistant” — with an emphasis on “enterprise” that more consumer-facing assistants like Alexa and Apple’s Siri tend to downplay. In a blog post, Kareem Yusuf, General Manager of Watson Internet of Things at IBM, outlines the goal of I-Vie as helping “businesses enhance brand loyalty and transform customer experiences, while keeping the business and customer data private and secure.”

A driver interacts with Watson Assistant within a “digital cockpit” from automotive electronics innovator HARMAN. The IBM offering gets to know the driver and their personal preferences to enhance the safety, convenience and comfort inside the vehicle. (Alan Rosenberg/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

An Enterprising Assistant

So far, IBM Watson has lined up brands such as HARMAN, which at Think 2018 is demonstrating Watson Assistant in its digital cockpit solution featured in a Maserati GranCabrio. In addition, Airwire, Munich Airport, Kaon Media, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and digital app pairing platform IFTTT.

“These partners recognize that Watson Assistant can be embedded in any ‘thing’ – a car, hotel room, retail store, conference room and more – offering consumers new levels of convenience as they live, work and travel,” Yusuf writes. “It combines a deep understanding of the user with additional contextual factors such as their location and time of day to anticipate their needs and proactively make recommendations.”

The contextual element is key here. In comparison with existing voice activated tech, Watson Assistant isn’t just designed for a single location such as a home. And, it doesn’t just respond to a person’s commands and provide generic information that’s publicly available. It can be accessed via voice or text interaction.

Still, while IBM Watson’s claim that its assistant “gets to know a person more through each and every interaction, gaining greater insight into who they are, what makes them happy and more,” is highlighted as another differentiator, most of the other AI-powered assistants also make similar assertions.

I-VIE At Home

IBM Watson’s Difference

Nevertheless, there is enough here to suggest that IBM Watson isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon, but that it may have something more scalable than its virtual voice activated peers.

Instead of being accessed only through a dedicated device or platform like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple’s Homepod,  I-VIE is delivered through the IBM Cloud.

As such, Watson Assistant can be “infused” into a new set of industry-specific applications. The two current examples included one for automotive and another for hospitality settings. Businesses can white-label and brand as they chose — something they can’t obviously do with the established virtual assistants.

Driving The Smart Assistant Experience

For example, carmakers can now offer the “smart assistant experience” in their vehicles, and hotels can offer guests a smart assistant experience in their rooms, Yusef says.

“But Watson Assistant isn’t just for auto and hospitality,” he notes. “Watson Assistant for additional industries allows companies in retail, banking and more to create several types of conversational capabilities (skills) that are important and relevant for their business or industry. Watson Assistant can also be customized for additional verticals, and with permission from the user, these businesses can share this data through the IBM Cloud to ensure that it’s present throughout each person’s day, no matter where they go.”

The newest AI assistant could also expand the use of IBM Watson Advertising,  which includes a portfolio of media, data (WEATHERfx, JOURNEYfx, etc…), and AI Tech solutions (IBM Marketing Planner with Lucy, Watson Ads, Bidding Optimization, Audience Targeting) for marketers and agencies.

“Right now, there are 17 billion devices that are connected to the internet, right now, through IoT devices,” said Watson Advertising CMO Jordan Bitterman at a presentation last year. “In the next two-and-half to three years, that projection is going to be somewhere between 30 billion and 200 billion, depending on which source you look at. With the latter number, that’s 25 devices for every single person on Earth. This is a huge ecosystem that we can draw on, that we can put to use in business. And the second one is AI and the number there is 7.5 billion — that’s the number of people on Earth.”