Stephen E. Arnold: IBM Flails at Cloud and Machine Learning

IO Impotency
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

Watson with its Head in the Cloud

IBM’s Watson is proceeding to the cloud. Apparently, though, the journey is proving more challenging than expected. The Register reports, “IBM’s Watson-as-a-Cloud: Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, it’s Another Mainframe.” Writer Jack Clark peers through the marketing hype, maintaining that Watson does not translate to the cloud as easily as IBM would have us believe.

The key to Watson’s functionality is its DeepQA analysis engine, which uses an amalgam of Apache‘s Hadoop, Apache’s UIMA, and other tools to achieve machine learning. This means, says Clark, that more work than one might expect must be done to get set up with the cloudy Watson.

He specifies:

“Applying DeepQA to any new domain requires adaptation in three areas:

*Content adaptation involves organizing the domain content for hypothesis and evidence generation, modeling the context in which questions will be generated

*Training adaptation involves adding data in the form of sample training questions and correct answers from the target domain so that the system can learn appropriate weights for its components when estimating answer confidence

*Functional adaptation involves adding new domain-specific question analysis, candidate generation, hypothesis scoring and other components.

Think of a mainframe. Watson seems a lot like one of those, as it preferences long-term relationships, an undisclosed financial outlay, and lock-in-by-default as this technology is only fielded by IBM. That’s not a terribly bad thing, mind, as for some organisations a tool like this could be useful. But it does mean you are right to be sceptical when IBM starts portraying Watson as a cloud product that’s is easy to get started with.”


The article reports that IBM is working on a lab that will help firms in Silicon Valley craft Watson-related apps. That may lead to easier transitions in the future, but in the meantime, any company considering adopting Watson-as-a-cloud should go in understanding that there will be much work to do before reaping the benefits of the famous AI’s wisdom.

Cynthia Murrell, February 04, 2014

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