What Does Watson Really Do?


Moving to a new role is always exciting, but always tough.  There is a learning curve, new technology, new terminology, new business processes, and new people to meet and work with.  Part of my starting as the Manager of the Watson architects was to address the learning curve around the technology and the terminology.  Since I know that any customer or partner looking to use Watson will need to go through a similar exercise, I thought that it might make sense to capture some of the better sources of information that helped me.

Getting Started

Once I started my new job, the first question that I had to answer is, “What exactly is Watson?  What does it do?”  I had to have an answer to this question, because my wife, kids, parents, and friends were asking me, and I felt dumb when I couldn’t answer this simple question.  one of the better answers that I have found is this 8 minute long video called, IBM Watson: How it Works.  I’m not usually big on videos, and I really don’t like marketing fluff (I’m a Tech weenie, I have always been a Tech weenie), but this one is short and to the point.  There are shorter snippets of this information on the SmarterPlanet – What is Watson page that you can look at as well.

The video introduces some key terminology that is important to understand.  It spends the first couple of minutes introducing cognitive computing, and how this is fundamentally different from more traditional computing.  If you’re not a technical person, this is pretty easy to understand.  This piece is important for more traditional programmers to understand, because it dispels the notion that this is just a turbo-charged expert system.  It is actually more than that.

It also talks about the differences between cognitive computing, and simple search capabilities.  The section on natural language processing is really interesting.  It should also help you begin to understand some of the concepts that are important to cognitive computing ( like data curation, corpus, machine learning, training, and question/answer pairs).

I also found an interesting article on No UI is the New UI, which covers some interesting ground on what the author calls artificial intelligence (which I call cognitive computing).  The processing of natural language, the conversion of speech-to-text, and conversions of text-to-speech are all Watson services that you can access on the Bluemix dashboard.  Bluemix is the IBM Cloud platform that allows you to select particular services (or APIs), and combine them to create customer Cloud applications.  The Watson services and capabilities are all cloud enabled and cloud ready for you, and you can see a list of them in the Bluemix catalog.  Not all of them are intuitively obvious at first (“What is the Alchemy API?”), but if you click on the tiles for each service, you will get a synopsis of what that service offers, and you can then drill down into more information on the service.

Cognitive computing is rapidly maturing and is beginning to be seen in the products and services that you use today.  Understanding the practical capabilities and limitations of cognitive computing will be critical in the future.  Because of this, I plan on following up on some of the services themselves, and the implications of using these services, in future blog posts.

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5 thoughts on “What Does Watson Really Do?

  1. Hey, Tox.   Read your blog post.  Good introduction to Watson.  I learned several things.    Thought I would point out that I think you have a typo.  I think you mean to mention the Bluemix dashboard, but it came out as just “h”.    “..Watson services that you can access on the h.”   I did some updating of my CV over the weekend.  I want to add a publication to it that should go live this week.  I’ll let you know when I get it updated again. Thanks, Dennis Schultz Solution ArchitectIBM MobileFirst       Phone: 1-314-265-7311 E-mail: dennis.schultz@us.ibm.com  Find me on:     and within IBM on: 12096 Lake Placid Dr St Louis, MO 63146 United States         

  2. Pingback: What Does Watson Really Do? | installitblog

  3. Rich Mitchell

    Hi, I have a really basic question that is along the lines of the “What is Watson” theme. From what I can tell when Watson played Jeopardy it was one “thing”. Now it seems like its multiple things – there is no one Watson any longer, but people keep using the term Watson as if it is one thing – kind of like we’re all Negan, if you’re a walking dead fan. At first I thought they took the original Watson and broke it into Watson Explorer and Watson Content Analytics. Then there is the Watson Developer Cloud, these seem to be other products (some or all of them bought by IBM) that were not Watson but used similar technology and now expand “Watson”. So what is Watson the product, I get the NLP stuff. And what do Watson Explorer and Watson Content Analytics have to do with the Watson Developer Cloud?

    1. dtoczala

      Good question. We tend to use the term “Watson” to cover all of the cognitive capabilities of IBM. This is what “Watson” really is. There are some “stand-alone” products that expose these capabilities in patterns that people would like to use, like Watson Explorer, Watson Analytics, and others. The Watson Developer Cloud (WDC) is a SaaS, Cloud based exposure of the various cognitive different services that make up some of these other products. There is text-to-speed (TTS) and speech-to-text (STT), vision recognition, and some others that deal with the man machine interface. Others do natural language processing and deep learning like the natural language classifier (NLC), retrieve and rank (R&R), sentiment analysis, and personality insights (PI). Others allow you to construct a more conversational journey, like dialog.

      So to answer the original question, “Watson” is all of the above. It may take some time to discover the services or products that provide you with the capability that you want, but you can tailor your cognitive application to use the combination of capabilities that gives you the most value.

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