IBM’s Watson could merge with Siri

watson-siri

IBM and Apple’s new enterprise partnership is already being called one of the “most important and powerful tech partnerships ever.”

But outside of selling more iPads, iPhones and Macs in business, what else could Apple get out of the deal, which was announced Tuesday? According to a new report, Watson — IBM’s Jeopardy-winning A.I. capable of understanding natural language.

Citing a cognitive technology expert, VentureBeat makes a convincing case that Watson and Siri might be the perfect pair.

“If Siri partners with Watson, people will take notice,” the expert said. “People think Siri is a joke. With Watson, no other cognitive technology out there has the ability to beat the world’s best Jeopardy contestants. And what this partnership means is Watson having access to Apple’s data, which would help power Watson’s own cognitive data. So Watson and Siri would fit together perfectly, like a puzzle.”

But how would Watson be able to improve Siri, if what they both do is understand natural language?

The key distinction between Watson and Siri is that Watson is a natural-language AI. In essence, while Siri is programmed to understand natural speech, it can’t formulate answers on its own: Instead, it needs to take structured data from third parties, like Wolfram Alpha and Rotten Tomatoes, in order to answer questions.

But Watson, unlike Siri, is capable of learning and coming up with answers itself. Ask Watson to give you the best pizza sauce recipe, for example, and it might try to synthesize a recipe itself, based upon everything it knows.

Basically, if Watson and Siri get into bed together, Siri could actually learn about you, using what it knows to intelligently come up with answers that are perfectly tailored for you. Siri could finally be more than just the dumb blonde on your iPhone.

  • http://www.designstrategies.com Len Williams

    This potential merger between Siri and Watson sounds like it could be the real beginning of a “smart” AI that sci-fi and technology fans have been waiting for, for decades. It could finally mean that we could approach the virtual intelligent assistant smart enough to take over the routine jobs of a personal secretary. However, I must come to Siri’s defense when you call her a “joke” and a “dumb blonde”.

    At her current level of development and “intelligence” Siri is very capable in several essential functions that I use every day. I hear and read about people criticizing Siri for what she doesn’t do, based on their own personal expectations. Instead, I think she’s wonderful at dialing people in my Contacts list, giving me directions to nearly anywhere I want to go locally and when traveling, and finding information on the web. I rarely have trouble with Siri understanding me. Siri is undeserving of the criticism she gets as long as you use her for what she’s programmed to do well.

    My car is a joke because it doesn’t fly. Heck, it’s so stupid that I can’t even take a nap while driving on a long trip. Just because Siri doesn’t do what you think she should do, she provides certain functionality that I’d be lost without. Could she improve? Of course, and it may well be that a marriage of Siri and Watson could turn her into a very smart and capable gal, and the first true “thinking” AI. For the time being, leave off the Siri bashing and appreciate her for what she does do well.

    • ethanborden

      Well said Len! I love what Siri does for me, I really don’t have many complaints.

  • David

    I’m surprised at Tim getting into bed with IBM. His (and my) kind were only a holepunch away from being murdered by Nazis!

    • TJ

      But you’ll drive a BMW, Audi, VW, or Mercedes, since they were only a lug nut away from blasting an Allied force into oblivion?

  • genxprof

    Siri can’t play Jeopardy!, and Watson can’t take dictation…Watson can’t talk to Siri.

    Watson employs large scale optimization to find a ranking of “high precision” answers in terms of confidence levels, and then reports the answers with the highest scores. Humans do not “think” this way (Watson cannot “think”, by the way). Watson also employs NLP algos that try to mimic human language processing, but the efficacy of these algos is considerably lower than average human language processing. To win Jeopardy!, Watson received narrow training focused to win a match. Without further training, it is unclear whether Watson would win a string of such matches against different opponents. Watson’s predictive capability as an expert system is also narrow, and depends on highly specialized, focused training, expensive. Watson fills a huge air conditioned room – the idea that a Watson would serve millions of Siri users from a cloud is somewhat, shall we say, nonsensical. The announced partnership is a PR move on behalf of IBM and Apple, with Apple essentially hiring IBM as a sales and marketing agent. IBM has considerable sunk costs in Watson, and is doing anything it can to recover them. Last week the Watson group leader was on TV giving out BBQ sauce recipes that Watson “came up with.” Steve Jobs’ expletive w.r.t. the IBM/Apple CEO interview on the PR release: “Bozos.” Jobs is spinning in his grave (thanks for all those real toys, Steve).

    Artificial cognitive systems have a considerable distance to travel in terms of R&D and the approaches (HW/SW) to get there.

    • Jay D Belford

      And Genxprof sure sounds jealous, ignorant, righteous, and proud of it. Lemme guess … GOP???

      • gonpinnie

        ignore him. genxprof does not know anything about computing. his reasoning of “what thinking is” is based on what? we people learn from collection of knowledge. we just have a superior recall function than machines. let him rot in jealousy.

      • PK070205

        What does the GOP have to do with anything in this discussion. Lemme guess, your a mindless minion of the DFL party, drinking what ever kool-aid they serve you…???

    • http://www.designstrategies.com Len Williams

      Genxprof: Unlike you who considers this simply a PR stunt, I have great expectations that the collaboration between Apple and IBM could revolutionize artificial intelligence and human/machine interaction. The engineers and programmers at both companies have a considerable amount of smarts between them, and I have no doubt that they’ve already done considerable research on the potential of how to make Siri and Watson play well together. These guys aren’t dumb enough to ink a deal without already determining the feasibility of a productive partnership. Who cares that Watson occupies a large room. Siri’s data center occupies several football fields, and the integration of Watson’s software and hardware into the cloud doesn’t sound like the impossibility you seem to think it is. After all, before Siri and Apple’s Data Centers, no one was doing voice command until Apple showed it could be done well in the cloud. Yes, there may be a considerable distance the hardware and software engineers have to travel, yet we’re now living in a technological age that was never dreamed of even 10-15 years ago. The glass is half full, not empty.

      • Alex Benedict

        Len: Those of us looking for a true AI or artificial cognitive system want such a construct at our local fingertips, not enabled and controlled through a cloud. I feel I knew more 25-30 years ago than I do now – technological progress has occurred mostly to serve the growth of the financial, media and entertainment industries, not to mention the political arena and MIC, and we are all just data points in the cloud, to that end. It doesn’t get me an AI to make friends with, who knows how I think and feel, who can joke with me, who can create with me in an intelligent, intuitive way, and who earns my trust and privacy. Yes, the glass is half full – but the way corporations abuse engineers and creators these days to their own short-term returns, it will stay half full for quite some time. Genxprof’s post comes across to me as honest, and the pessimism simply meant to push people to think about the problem in the less obvious ways. Of course I am guessing about how this person “thinks.”

    • Alex Benedict

      Ignore all the detractors and ad hominem attacks, genxprof. I thought your comments were on the mark. The problem is that the media and most people are stuck on an image of what AI or artificial cognitive systems should be, and traditional computing simply isn’t the approach that will work. If it were, we’d have seen plenty of mind-blowing AI capability in the hands of consumers already.

      Jobs surely would never have let IBM inside the door, just to pump up IBM’s sagging state. IBM management cares only about the bottom line and has never respected and promoted its engineers.

    • IJustWantTruth

      Watson runs on a pizza box now.

      Watson didn’t just win a match in jeopardy, it beat the two grand champions. It didn’t know the questions/answers in advance. It was trained to win any jeopardy game. It can be trained to do similarly complex things.

      What you said about predictive capability is mumbo jumbo BS. Watson can be trained to answer service desk requests or it can train cancer researchers to find new research paths. It can be trained to give advice to health care professionals about individualized care.

      IBM hasn’t invested that much in Watson. It is however in the process of investing $1Bil. This is what happens when opportunity emerges.

      Watson applications are in production in a variety of fields. IBM leads the world in NLP and Big Data.

      You are severely uninformed.

  • seth walker

    Apple will integrate this in a way that APPLE is best at. I think we’re trying to separate these two and base this off of what each can do right now. Which is great and all, but theres more where that came from. If this merger does happen, along with a more synthetic voice it will easily put Apple in a great position to build off of this and to have one of the most helpful phone assistants out there. Think about how this could be used with Apple maps. Yes theres this way, but theres traffic here, and it looks like it might get congested here. Take this route. Id love that going into an area im not familiar with. I say its a good start on improving what Siri already is.

  • Super Nerd Podcast

    O my word I am sooooooo hoping this comes true!!!!!!!!

  • http://blog.slaunchaman.com Jeff Kelley

    Dumb blonde? Way to take a reasonable article and stink it up at the end. Doesn’t add anything of value.

  • TJ

    Open the Pod Bay Doors Siri….

  • Yunik

    I really like the deal but Calling Siri dump and saying that she is a joke– this is really making me angry. She is really a awesome assistant , well atleast better then google now.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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