IBM is on a mission to defend its ‘street cred’ from AI upstarts trying to muscle into its turf (IBM, AMZN, GOOG, GOOGL, FB)

David Kenny

  • IBM launched a series of new artificial-intelligence tools and services this month. 
  • Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are receiving a lot of press attention for their AI work, much of it on consumer-focused products like digital assistants.
  • IBM has its sights on AI for enterprise,  an area where few of the challengers has anywhere near the same amount of experience. 

There’s a high-stakes race among the biggest tech companies, from Google to Amazon, to carve out turf in the burgeoning artificial intelligence market.

But ask IBM, and it will tell you it has the home-field advantage. 

After all, in 1957, the company helped prove that AI had practical uses when it programmed an IBM 704 to play checkers and to learn from its experiences. In 2011, an IBM super-computer named Watson became the champ of the TV trivia game show “Jeopardy.”

And although IBM’s focus is on technology for enterprise customers, rather than direct to consumer products, the 107-year-old company is not about to let its AI reputation be stolen by upstarts like Google, Facebook, Amazon.  

On Monday, IBM announced that it has released AI specially “pre-trained” for nine industries, including human resources, supply chain, manufacturing, and advertising.

These AI tools, part of the Watson Decision Platform, come pre-programmed to understand the language, tasks and challenges of each industry. The pre-trained AI still allows customers to customize for their specific situation. Among the companies already signed up are H&R Block, Ingersoll Rand, and Subway.

Earlier this month, IBM launched a new tool that scans AI software and uncovers all kinds of nasty bias. If an insurance company isn’t giving loans to members of a particular minority group, this tool will expose it.

David Kenny, senior vice president of IBM Cognitive Solutions, told Business Insider that IBM’s AI has more than 16,000 applications applied in more than 20 industries and across 80 countries.

Project Debater, IBM, supercomputer

“AI is becoming a better way for people to make decisions,” Kenny said. “We are focused on helping businesses improve their work flows and get more out of all their data.”

For IBM, all the attention paid to the likes of Facebook, Google, and Amazon over their AI efforts must be strange. Part of that is due to the skill the tech companies have in putting on a good show.

Google Home and Amazon Alexa are consumer AI, digital assistants that speak with their owners. This is the kind of futuristic tech that sparks the public’s imagination. In May, when Google unveiled Duplex, the appointment-making software that can carry on conversations in a human-sounding voice, the tech press couldn’t write enough.

That doesn’t rattle IBM’s brass says Kenny. First of all, IBM has also showcased its own talking AI, called Debater, that received its own positive press. Secondly, much of what the other guys are doing involves consumers.

IBM has some experience with consumer goods. The company was once among the dominant PC makers. But that was an anomaly for IBM, according to Kenny. With AI, Big Blue has its sights squarely on the enterprise market, an area where it has more than a century of experience.

See Also: A former TV comedy writer learned three ways to succeed at impossible tasks when he taught an IBM computer how to argue

“The digital assistants are in a big, broad market,” Kenny said. “I don’t see us going into the crowded consumer space.”

IBM says it recently surveyed 5,000 executives, asking them where AI could provide the greatest value. Some of the areas the execs identified were IT, information security, customer service and risk management.

“Those are clearly areas where IBM has both deep experience and street cred,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, an IT research company.  “There are problems that are well beyond the current capabilities of Amazon Alexa and Google Voice so IBM has what you might call great field advantage.”

SEE ALSO: We tested Google’s AI booking service Duplex, and it fooled us into believing it was human

SEE ALSO: IBM’s new AI supercomputer can argue, rebut and debate humans

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Apple took another subtle jab at Facebook during its iPhone XS event