Where IBM Watson AI Went Wrong

Written by: Jeff Kagan

Until a few short years ago, IBM Watson seemed to be on top of the world. The growing power of its AI blew everyone away. It seemed destined for industry leadership and in fact, greatness. If that’s the case, why have we heard nothing about it in the last few years? Let’s take a closer look and see the problem IBM faces and what happened to Watson.

If you recall, IBM Watson was introduced to the public a decade ago as a contestant on the TV game show Jeopardy in 2011. At that time the public had never heard the term Artificial Intelligence and didn’t know what it meant except for when it appeared in the context of sci-fi movies. It was not part of our lexicon in the real world yet.

At that time Watson blew the other contestants away. It was amazing to see such illustrious Jeopardy champions as Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter get humbled by a machine. In the ensuing years, Watson grew in size and scope, moving into industry after industry, continuing to WOW investors, customers and, in fact, everyone.

Watson was a leader in this nascent space and was going to transform industry after industry and usher in the next generation. We all thought IBM would change the world with AI.

Today, the AI and IoT industries are growing larger and faster than ever imagined.

IBM World of Watson event in Las Vegas was astounding

In fact, just a few short years ago, IBM invited me to attend their World of Watson event in Las Vegas. To tell you the truth, like everyone else, it blew me away. It was exciting and astounding.

IBM built a huge conference around Watson. There were loads of companies, CEOs, executives, government and political officials, hospital and corporate leaders. There were well-known individuals, analysts, influencers and more.

IBM seemed singularly focused on grabbing as much social media attention as it could, and it got plenty of it.

One would think with all this attention the World of Watson event would continue to build and grow, after all it showed us: what tomorrow would look like today, how everyone would change and who the leaders would be.

AI and IoT are rapidly growing, so why is IBM Watson so quiet?

Today, just a few short years later, it seems no one is talking about Watson. What happened and why is IBM so quiet?

After all, the worlds of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things are still growing faster than ever. At the same time, the word Watson is seldom found.

This sad fact shows how IBM mismanaged its marketing, advertising, public relations, media relations and more with regards to Watson.

IBM was in over its head with Watson

You see, this result is what I feared several years ago. I got the sense this disaster would happen when I was at the World of Watson.

As amazing as the technology was, the people in charge of generating excitement and creating sizzle were not marketing specialists.

They were technology people. And technology people don’t know how to communicate with the average person.

Watson was the breakthrough technology that was going to completely transform industries like healthcare. IBM spent a fortune on this conference and on creating a bigger than life image with itself positioned as the leader in this new industry, and in fact other industries.

All that being said, it didn’t work. Oh, it worked in the early years of AI. That was when no one knew anything about it. And it looked like IBM Watson would be a responsible participant in this new industry.

IBM Watson left behind as AI industry moved ahead

As other companies and technologies entered the space, however, the thinking about AI changed and expanded. IBM Watson stuck to its guns and wanted to lead this industry they felt like they created.

The problem was, while it may have been one of the early leaders in this space, IBM Watson could not control it. As new companies and advanced technology entered the space, it left IBM Watson, the pioneer that started the conversation, behind in the dust.

Today, IBM Watson is still a strong and powerful player in the AI space. However, the company is no longer the leader as the volume is getting louder and louder.

There are so many companies that use AI as part of their portfolio, and they are capturing the imagination of investors and users. Companies like Qualcomm, Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and so many others.

IBM Watson needs to find the right balance

IBM is still a player in this space, of course, but it has been too quiet for its own good these days. The company still has a chance to succeed broadly, but only if it can find the right balance.

While it is true that there are so many other leading companies in the AI space, there is no reason why IBM can’t be an equal player in this new industry. They can and should be a powerful voice in the evolving industry.

Today, IBM needs to re-think its promotional, marketing, advertising and public relations strategy. It was one of the first players in this space. A leader. And it can be again.

This is key for Watson to be a leader going forward. Can the company find the proper balance? Can they get back in sync with the marketplace before it’s too late? Can it be a player again?

Good question. IBM has been a leader, but has never been a player. It sees itself as a leader, but it will be interesting to watch if it can learn to be a true player. Stay tuned.

Related: The Application of IoT in the Financial Sector