‘The biggest misperception about Watson is that it’s meant to replace humans’

IBM’s cognitive computing platform Watson is hugely popular in the world of technology. But its critics have always accused it of killing jobs currently being done by humans. In an exclusive interview with The Startup Observer, Dr. Prashant Pradhan, CTO & Chief Developer Advocate, IBM India/South Asia clears the air of misconception and explains how Watson actually enhances the abilities of humans.

Q. IBM Watson has often been criticised for killing jobs. What’s your take? Does it actually take away jobs or does it help employees move up the value chain?
The biggest misperception about Watson is that it’s meant to replace humans. Watson works with humans to enhance the abilities of professionals at every level, from highly specialized surgeons to oil drillers and automates many basic tasks. However, no matter how advanced the technology, some jobs—specifically, those that rely heavily on empathy, ethical judgment, and social interaction—will always be performed better by humans. AI introduces a new level of collaboration between humans and machines. Watson will augment and expand human intelligence, not replace it.

Watson is the AI platform for business, powered by data. It is not one thing, but rather a collection of services and capabilities—including machine learning, reasoning, and decision technologies, as well as language, speech, and vision technologies—that enable Watson to learn at scale, reason with purpose and interacts with humans naturally to solve a wide range of practical problems, boost productivity and foster new discoveries across many industries.

Watson can turn unstructured business data into actionable insights that enhance decision-making. Watson can take many forms, from virtual assistant to care manager, research module to customer service agent. Watson leverages the IBM Cloud, offering access to an unprecedented set of enterprise-grade cloud services that can further enhance its function to meet various business needs.

Q. Can you give some use cases and examples where Watson has been successfully deployed?
Watson solutions are being built, used and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries. Watson technologies learn the language and nuances of industries and professionals – from doctors and lawyers to security experts and financial advisors. We project that by the end of 2017, Watson will be available to more than a billion consumers of all kinds, helping them discover the right insurance options, troubleshoot their IT, answer weather-related questions, get faster service from their bank and more.

In health, Watson has worked with nearly 40,000 patients and doctors, and this will grow to approximately 100,000 by the end of 2017. Watson Health’s suite of oncology offerings has touched 13,000 patients, collaborating with doctors, helping improve treatment recommendations and delivering more efficient care. As of August 2017, Watson for Oncology is in use by more than 60 hospitals across 13 countries, and currently supporting treatments of seven cancers (breast, lung, cervical, ovarian, prostate, colorectal and gastric). At Manipal Hospitals in India, doctors reported in a peer-reviewed study that Watson for Oncology was concordant with their expert tumor board recommendations in up to 96 percent of patient cases. The technology has been adopted across their 12-hospital network, eliciting positive feedback from physicians and patients

Similarly, across the globe, we are working with clients in financial services to apply cognitive to better manage risk and provide personalized guidance and investment options. IBM Watson is also helping media specialists in many countries to better utilize their time with increased efficiency in delivering better healthcare consultancy.

Q. How do we stay relevant in our jobs at a time when technology is changing so rapidly and many tasks are being automated?
While there is no specific report or research from IBM around this, but saying that, we should look at technology as an enabler for new kind of jobs and evolved work. To stay relevant in the future, upskilling and reskilling will be of utmost importance. IBM Watson augments human intelligence to increase efficiency, productivity, and accuracy. We in no way in the near future see Watson or any other form of Artificial Intelligence kill human jobs. It will only give rise to a new form of jobs.

What will be important is to reskill ourselves, to stay relevant to the industry demand and changes. The Indian government is focusing heavily on skilling with its multiple campaigns like Skill India. But there is a clear gap, India is caught by both a skill gap and a higher education sector struggling to keep up. In a recent IBM Institute for Business Value study in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit titled ‘Upskilling India’, only 40 percent of the Indian executives surveyed indicated that new employees recruited in local labour markets have the requisite job skills and believe that much of the nation’s current higher education system fails to meet the needs of students, industry, and society. Skills are emerging as the new currencies across businesses globally and in India.

With technology becoming all the more pivotal in our daily lives and businesses across verticals and industries, there will emerge a new kind of jobs know as new collar jobs that combine technical skills in areas such as cloud, cognitive, security, data science etc. with a knowledge base rooted in higher education. Today’s rapidly evolving economic environment makes up-skilling and re-skilling imperative across job profiles and sectors, and we at IBM are focused on creating an ecosystem where employees are pushed to innovate and re-invent themselves.

Q. What is the importance of innovation to stay relevant in the future?
Innovation is at the core of IBM’s DNA. It is enabling transformation across industries with its cloud and cognitive capabilities. At IBM, we’re committed to creating an environment where our employees can bring innovation to every aspect of their jobs.

As a nation, if we aspire to become a knowledge-driven economy, we have to focus on higher order skills and move up the value chain. Our workforce needs skills aligned to technology shifts and market needs. We are slowly moving to an era where skilling will be continuous and people will have many careers within a career. The industry and the kind of jobs that will be created requires a continuous focus on contextual skilling. The speed at which the technology, market trends, and client requirement are transforming demands that everybody keeps themselves upgraded with new skills. Innovation will only augment capabilities of people, the more they are skilled, the more will they be a differentiator for the company.

“Your Learning”- is a new platform to enable IBMers to learn, grow and explore their interests. The cognitive, digital and interactive platform was introduced to IBM employees recently. Apart from helping access skills, the platform points out the gaps and suggests solutions for the individual. IBM’s innovation program clearly has a very sharp focus on the current and foreseeable needs of its existing customers and stakeholders.

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Ayushman Baruah
Ayushman Baruah is the founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Startup Observer. With 10+ years of rich experience in journalism spanning across newspaper, magazine, and news wire, Ayushman takes a conscious effort to stay away from the rat's race and the noise of breaking news. The Startup Observer is a noble initiative to serve the readers with ideas that go beyond news. In 2013, Ayushman won the prestigious 15th Annual PoleStar Award in jury's category for excellence in technology journalism. He loves writing, public speaking, observing, travelling, aquariums, and anything that makes him think. He believes in keeping his feet on the ground but eyes on the stars.