Chatbot History: The IBM Watson Assistant Chatbot

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

The IBM Watson Assistant Chatbot was originally created in 2006 by IBM Research using software called Deep QA. The chatbot was named after IBM’s first CEO Thomas J. Watson. Watson was initially created to answer questions from the TV show Jeopardy and that’s still what Watson is best known for.

In fact he ended up winning a Jeopardy challenge in February of 2011 against champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings without any human assistance. As TechRepublic put it, “Rutter and Jennings were Jeopardy-winning machines.” Between them they had won more than $5 million.

But the Watson Assistant Chatbot was a machine designed to win Jeopardy. IBM has an entertaining video about Watson’s Jeopardy win and what they see for the future of Watson.

IBM Watson Assistant Chatbot

The IBM Watson Assistant Chatbot Makes an Impact

Over the past several years, the Watson Assistant chatbot has evolved and made his way into a variety of different fields where specialization has fine-tuned him to suit the needs of the industry. According to an IBM Press Release from Feb, 2019:

“Companies across more than 15 industries including automotive, banking & financial services, healthcare, telecommunications, manufacturing, and software and technology, use Watson Assistant to develop distinct virtual assistants that uniquely represent their brand attributes.”

Watson Assistant for Industry Platform

Watson Assistant for Industry, or simply Watson Industry, allows businesses to create their own industry-specific digital assistants. Customers can interact with Watson through text, or via a Smart Speaker, much like the Amazon Alexa, but built by IBM. This platform has allowed the Watson Assistant chatbot to be deployed across a wide variety of industries as I mentioned above. Some of the more interesting areas of specialization are Health, Automotive, and Hospitality.

A young Doctor smiling

Watson Assistant for Health

Watson Health, is probably the area where Watson has made the biggest impact. Using Watson Assistant for Industry, Watson Health offers organizations to build a Virtual Assistant that has access to an immense amount of information about healthcare.

In 2013, Watson began helping the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York make utilization management decisions for Lung Cancer.

Hardin Memorial Health in Kentucky used Watson Health to improve its Electronic Health Record system and find the data needed more quickly. Using an add on called Watson Imaging Patient Synopsis, the system finds relevant patient-specific data allowing doctors and others on the care team to see the patient’s medical history, allowing them to make decisions faster and more accurately.

As in the other areas, there are issues with the chatbot over-promising and under-performing in Watson Health. But as Watson continues to grow and learn, expectations are high.

New York City’s Human Resources Administration is using Watson Health in a variety of different channels, including self-service kiosks available in 15 different offices throughout the city. The service supports seven different languages and has special services for the visually impaired. Watson Health guides users through the application process, improving customer service and reducing the amount of time spent by users waiting for assistance. The end result has been increased access to benefits in SNAP offices, meaning that more hungry people are getting the food assistance they need.

The Ohio State University Health Plan is using Watson to help reduce waste by identifying high-cost procedures and improving them using process engineering. Basically they are using data analysis to find areas where improvements could be made to reduce the cost to them and as a result, to their members.

Watson Assistant for Automotive

Watson Automotive helps automobile manufacturers and their partners provide drivers and passengers with an interactive experience. Interacting with a microphone in the vehicle, the occupant can ask about a variety of topics like local points of interest or businesses. Users can also ask about items in the real world, including what is essentially talking to the vehicle itself, asking about anything from the car’s basic details all the way to the current status of the vehicle. The end result is improved driver experience, reduced service costs, and customer engagement which will no doubt have an impact on the company’s finances.

Skoda Auto is using Watson Automotive to help improve its recruitment process.

Golden State Foods is using Watson Automotive to assist with fleet management and improve the safety of their 2,000 trucks. They also connected their system to more than 125,000 restaurants in 60 countries.

Watson Assistant for Hospitality

Watson Hospitality is an in-room digital assistant that integrates with smart speakers. The service was built with Watson Assistant for Industry and lets Hotels provide a way for their guests to interact quickly with the Resort’s services and provides a virtual concierge for every guest. An available Mobile App allows guests to carry their Watson Assistant with them around town during their stay, letting them find information about local events and businesses.

Since companies can “White Label” Watson, their guests usually don’t know that Watson Hospitality is behind their virtual concierge.

In Conclusion

The IBM Watson Assistant is more of a specialized Virtual Assistant that also features targeted versions for different industries and allows different companies to add further specialization. It is one of the most advanced chatbots available today, and with IBM behind it, I expect it will continue to be one of the leaders as we move into the future.

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2 thoughts on “Chatbot History: The IBM Watson Assistant Chatbot”

  1. Very informative post, this is exactly what I was looking for. I had no idea Watson was doing so many different things, I just wanted to learn about the Jeopardy win. Thank you.


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