With Watson Anywhere, IBM wants to democratize artificial intelligence

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According to a recent PwC study, AI adoption is poised to inject a potential $16 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. Despite this, the technology has a global adoption rate of only four percent.

In a recent post on the IBM Think Blog, General Manager for IBM Data + AI Rob Thomas listed three reasons AI adoption has been so glacial:
Increasing data complexity and silos
Limited AI expertise to build, run, and manage AI
And a lack of AI portability to enable businesses to bring AI to data.

Companies are creating more and more data, that’s being stored across more and more cloud platforms and data centers. That makes deploying AI, which works within data sets, a pretty difficult task. Add to that the common practice of AI vendor lock-in, wherein AI can only be used for data housed in a particular vendor’s platform, and the four percent adoption rate starts to make a bit more sense.

To support the adoption and development of AI, IBM is rolling out their AI service Watson, making it available to firms operating in any cloud environment. With it, they hope companies using any combination of data solutions can uncover previously unobtainable insights from their clouds.

“This means you can take your AI and bring it to the data, instead of the other way around,” said Daniel Hernandez, vice president for IBM Data + AI. “We think this is going to be absolutely game-changing for AI.”

IBM has built a series of new microservices on IBM Cloud Private for Data, their AI information architecture, to allow users to run Watson on any “public, hybrid or multi-cloud environment, enabling businesses to infuse AI into their apps, wherever they reside.”




But while this may address the issue of vendor lock-in, AI-powering their businesses continues to be a pipe dream for firms struggling with a lack of talent needed to this new technology.

This is especially true for developing markets like the Philippines, where a vast majority of firms have yet to migrate critical workflows onto the cloud, much less inject them with AI. As one of AI main advocates, IBM recognizes the role it plays in pushing new technologies onto a world that’s largely ill-equipped to leverage them.

“If you look across the data science and AI fields, there is a tremendous skill gap,” said Seth Dobrin, vice president and chief data officer of IBM Data + AI.

In response, IBM is rolling out a series of certification programs, apprenticeships, and client reskilling programs. One in particular, a data science certification program built in collaboration with the US Department of Labor, will get enrollees up to speed on using open source tools they can apply to what IBM is calling “new collar jobs”.

As a joint project with the US government, all the materials IBM prepared for this program are available online for free to anyone in the world. IBM is also currently in talks with partners and other government agencies outside the US to establish similar programs across the globe.

“We encourage people to take it and use it. We don’t see it as IBM’s,” Mr. Dobrin said. “We see it as a contribution to the community to help our clients be more successful.”

Last month, IBM announced a tripartite partnership with Taguig City and Taguig City University to launch the local leg of its global P-TECH school model. This free mentorship program targets graduating students looking to enter a growing market for tech-savvy workers.

According to the Philippine IT-BPM Accelerate PH Future Ready Roadmap, this market stands to contribute roughly 654,000 net new jobs to be created by 2022, from a baseline of 1.15 million jobs in 2016.

“It’s incredibly important that we develop these skills everywhere, not just in the US or Europe. It needs to be in the Philippines, in South Africa,” Mr. Dobrin said. “We really believe these things combined will help our clients have access to the talent they need to leverage all their data science tools.”

With these new services and educational programs, IBM hopes to build a path for firms looking to infuse their businesses with AI, regardless of the expertise they currently command. In addition to their programs, IBM offers an online product called IBM Cloud Private Experiences that allows users to get test drive their combined data and AI stacks might streamline their workflows.

“Expediting the pace of adoption is no trivial task,” Mr. Thomas said. “It requires an open approach to technology, a philosophy of bringing the best AI to the data, and a commitment to educating the world in this 21st century skill.”

“We are freeing clients from AI vendor lock-in and helping them begin to unlock insights from their data – wherever it resides, taking one big step towards AI everywhere,” he said.