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Watson, IBM’s super computer (and Jeopardy champion), is a remarkable achievement, but it also is only as good as the data that feeds it. Therefore, IBM has followed an acquisitive path, purchasing and obtaining rights to ever increasing amounts of data in its effort to ensure that Watson continues to amaze and astound, as well as inform, everyone who uses it.

Full-frame view of HTML codeA recent acquisition involves the vast digital assets—in the form of approximately 4 gigabytes of data every second—that the Weather Company generates from approximately 40 million smartphones, nearly 150,000 weather stations, and 50,000 daily airline flights. The Weather Company currently collects all these data to offer up-to-the-minute weather information to consumers who subscribe to its services. In return, those consumers actually provide much of the data, through their linked smartphones. The Weather Company even is developing smart windshield wipers that would gauge temperatures, humidity, and rainfall while clearing the windshields of technology-enabled cars.

These weather-related offerings certainly remain valuable, but IBM plans to take the big data even further, by combining them with other reams of information. For example, IBM already has partnerships in place that allow it to receive data from diverse firms such as Johnson & Johnson, Apple, and Twitter. A relationship with a medical imaging company even grants it access to millions of X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging results.

With these massive data, one of the primary goals for IBM and Watson is better targeted, more informative, and more helpful advertising. In one example suggested by the Weather Company CEO, by combining health information, sentiment analysis from Twitter, weather data, and details of a user’s buying habits, Watson could identify and recommend preventative practices or medications to help a consumer avoid catching the flu or limit seasonal allergies.

The deal is not totally comprehensive, in that the Weather Company maintains sole rights to its television channel. But IBM receives not just its data but also access to its digital and website operations, along with intellectual property that might keep Watson better informed and updated.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What kinds of data is IBM gathering in this new partnership?

Source: Robert McMillan, “IBM Buys Weather Company’ Digital Assets, Expanding Move into Data Crunching,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2015

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