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. …

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Tech Giants Step up Competition in Voice-Activated Enterprise Tech

Tech Giants Step up Competition in Voice-Activated Enterprise Tech

Last year saw a sharp rise in investment in AI-driven voice-command technology for workplace use, with Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana beginning to take on enterprise roles, amid growing investments by these companies in AI. Based on how heavily voice-activated tools were promoted at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2018), this year will see Google, Facebook, Samsung, Apple, and Cisco make moves in that market as well.

Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan pronounced Amazon the “winner” of CES before it even began, noting the omnipresence of the Alexa virtual assistant in everything from speakers to smart mirrors and automobiles. Sullivan noted an eMarketer survey which said that 45.4 million Americans will be using an AI assistant this year, 68 percent of whom will be using Alexa. HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo all launched Windows 10 PCs with two virtual assistants, Alexa and Microsoft’s notably less popular Cortana, but at this moment, it appears Alexa has the strongest foothold in the enterprise market.

“As we begin 2018, Alexa shows the strongest partner ecosystem — with the most hardware partners and the most skills — and an increasing presence in the office with Alexa for Business,” Forrester vice president and principal analyst J.P. Gownder told Computerworld.

Sullivan noted that Google made its presence felt at CES as well, but they did it with aggressively placed ads on buildings and public transportation. Still, Google Assistant is not far behind Alexa and has some built-in advantages. Amazon was the first to launch such a product, releasing Alexa in 2014, but Google has a wealth of institutional knowledge in the AI space and also has the widely-used Android mobile platform to drive adoption and streamlined integration of Google Assistant. So far, Assistant is on touchscreen-enabled devices by Sony, JBL, and Lenovo, and also slated to go into LG and GE appliances, in addition to cars through the Android Auto offering, according to VentureBeat.

Microsoft’s Cortana has a chance to succeed in the workplace market thanks to its presence through Office 365 and LinkedIn, but will have a long way to go if it hopes to supplant Google and Amazon. Another new entrant, Cisco, has an advantage with its new voice-activated technology thanks to its well-established enterprise communication infrastructure. Apple’s Siri is another notable competitor but would need a big push to make gains in the enterprise adoption of its computers and phones to penetrate the workplace market.