IBM Unveils Watson AI Assistant for Businesses

IBM Unveils Watson AI Assistant for Businesses

Watson Assistant, the latest entry into the AI-powered virtual assistant market, made its debut on Tuesday at IBM’s Think conference in Las Vegas, CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin reports. Unlike Amazon’s consumer-focused Alexa, however, Watson Assistant is an enterprise-oriented technology that “will function as the behind-the-scenes brains for a variety of new digital helpers made by a variety of businesses”:

For example, Watson Assistant is already in use at Munich Airport to power a robot that can tell you directions and gate information. The assistant is in development by BMW for an in-car voice helper. Also, Chameleon Technology in the UK created a Watson Assistant-driven platform called I-VIE that helps people manage their energy usage.

“We looked at the market for assistants and realized there was something else needed to make it easier for companies to use,” said Bret Greenstein, IBM’s global vice president for IoT products. …

Greenstein said his company wasn’t introducing Watson Assistant as a defensive move against Alexa, but because his business customers are asking for it. He argued that companies with more sensitive information, like energy utilities and telecommunications providers, are more likely to use Watson Assistant than a consumer brand like Alexa or Apple’s Siri, because they’ll have more control over their information and the customer experience.

The launch comes just a week after Amazon revealed the progress it has made in building out the capabilities of Alexa for Business since launching the enterprise version of its popular voice-activated AI assistant last November. Alexa can now interface with enterprise software like Salesforce, Concur, and ServiceNow, while developers can build their own custom skill sets for the AI to meet the unique needs of their organizations. Microsoft has been developing similar business capabilities for its Cortana product, while Google and Apple are also moving into the enterprise space with their virtual assistants.

IBM is clearly looking to distinguish itself from these competitors by focusing Watson Assistant on companies first, rather than consumers, as well as by promising to give users more control over their data. As data security becomes a more pressing concern for organizations and as major tech companies face heavier scrutiny and criticism of how they collect and use data from users, this could prove a key differentiator for some companies looking to incorporate AI into their operations.