IBM introduced its new personal assistant, dubbed “Watson,” at the company’s Think Conference on Tuesday. Watson represents IBM’s first foray into the personal assistant market. IBM may hope that by offering a versatile and customizable assistant, it will be able to compete with industry stalwarts Siri and Alexa.
Unlike Siri and Alexa, Watson has the ability to integrate into a wide range of systems, as it doesn’t need IBM hardware to work properly. This means that businesses can purchase Watson and add personal assistant capabilities to a whole slew of products.
“Watson Assistant can be embedded in any ‘thing’ – a car, hotel room, retail store, conference room and more – offering consumers new levels of convenience as they live, work and travel,” General Manager of Watson IoT Kareem Yusuf wrote in a blog post. “It combines a deep understanding of the user with additional contextual factors such as their location and time of day to anticipate their needs and proactively make recommendations.”
One of the other advantages that IBM claims to have over its competitors is that Watson is not just a smart assistant, but a smarter assistant. The company says that Watson learns as it interacts with people, meaning that the service will improve not only with software updates but automatically over time.
“It can be accessed via voice or text interaction and gets to know a person more through each and every interaction, gaining greater insight into who they are, what makes them happy and more,” Yusuf wrote.
Another key feature is that Watson is customizable. The assistant was designed as a sort of off-the-shelf product for businesses, which can purchase Watson, use it in any number of environments, and brand it to suit their own needs. For example, instead of adding Amazon Alexa to their cars, a carmaker could purchase Watson and have their own proprietary personal assistant.
One of the big draws of personal assistants is the fact that they accrue valuable data over time. This is only going to become a bigger deal as personal assistants become more mainstream. Amazon, for example, is gathering an immense amount of data through Alexa. But IBM says that with Watson, any business that purchases the assistant has rights to the data created by the assistant, which could be a major selling point.
Watson Assistant isn’t the only big announcement to come out of the Think Conference. On Monday, for example, IBM unveiled the world’s smallest computer, a device the size of a grain of salt that is meant to be used as a blockchain verifier.
The Think Conference ends on March 22.