IBM and BMW Are Using the Watson A.I. to Make KITT a Reality


IBM and BMW announced Thursday that they have teamed up to figure out how Watson, the A.I. most famous for winning Jeopardy! in 2011, could be used to make driving better. Could this finally make KITT from Knight Rider a reality?

The companies said they want to explore the potential of Watson “personalizing the driving experience and creating more intuitive driver support systems for cars of the future.” That sounds an awful lot like the talking car that helped David Hasselhoff get out of all sorts of hairy situations in the ‘80s.

BMW will have some researchers work out of IBM’s $200 million Watson Internet of Things headquarters in Munich as part of the agreement. The hope is that pairing their resources will allow the two companies to make driving more fun for human operators until autonomous vehicles take over for their human drivers.

How exactly that will happen remains to be seen. IBM says a few possibilities have already been considered: Watson could ingest a car’s manual to answer questions about how it works; connect to the Weather Channel to get meteorological info; and make recommendations based on route and traffic data.

The A.I. is well suited to all of those tasks. IBM partnered with Pfizer in December to find new cancer drugs because Watson can read more than any medical researcher — it can almost certainly handle questions about a car’s machinery.

Watson also has a reputation for letting machines seem more human. IBM recently announced Project Intu to use this ability to help developers make robots and other connected gizmos respond more naturally to stimuli.

Combine that with the technological “brain” for trivia that let Watson beat humans at Jeopardy! and the A.I. seems like a natural fit for auto companies looking to develop cars with personality.

Don't worry, it's friendly.


That’s become an area of interest for car manufacturers. Toyota made a tiny robot called Kirobo Mini to see how people would respond to robots on their commutes, for example, and Rolls-Royce made a futuristic concept car dubbed the Vision Next 100 whose A.I. “intuitively complements your personality, becoming a true companion.”

All of these improvements would help make cars more enjoyable while the world waits for autonomous vehicles to debut. It’s similar to the holographic interface BMW teased on Thursday: While it could become unnecessary in a few years, it will at least help make the roads a little safer before self-driving cars take over.

IBM calls out safety in its announcement. “Watson’s machine learning capabilities offer new opportunities for vehicles to learn about the preferences, needs, and driving habits of their drivers over time,” the company says, which means it’ll also help with “customizing the driving experience accordingly and improving levels of comfort and safety.”

Vehicles using Watson’s A.I. will be prototyped in IBM’s Munich headquarters. The company says it will get four BMW i8 hybrid sports cars for the facility, and that prototypes on its Bluemix cloud platform “will help demonstrate how Watson can enable new conversational interfaces between cars and drivers,” but the company didn’t say when we’ll be able to live out the Knight Rider fantasies inspired by the Hoff and KITT.

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