Watson in Marketing ?

July 9, 2011

Earlier this year, I wrote several posts on IBM’s Watson project, which produced a computer system that could compete — and win — on the popular TV game show, Jeopardy!.  I’ve also mentioned some of the more serious potential applications for Watson’s technology, including medical care.  (Watson is based on a technology developed by IBM called DeepQA.)

According to an article at the Extreme Tech site, IBM is now looking at ways in which Watson could be used in sales and technical support.  The idea of having a very well informed participant in the marketing process does have its attractions, at least from the (potential) customer’s point of view.

After conquering Jeopardy! and making inroads into the diagnosis of medical maladies, IBM’s next application for Watson is the wholescale revitalization of two very lucrative markets: sales and customer support. Think about it: how many times have you asked a salesperson a question about a product, only to have a blank smile or glib response fired back?

Since Watson combines the ability to search huge amounts of data with an “understanding” of natural language, it is not hard to imagine how it could be used in a technical support role.  (This kind of application of intelligent systems has historical precedent; one of the early expert systems was developed by Digital Equipment Corp., as it then was, to assist in specifying the configuration of their computer systems.)   There are many technical support database systems in existence already, of course.  One advantage that Watson might offer is the ability to deal with more unstructured data and to process natural language queries.

The idea of using Watson directly in marketing is somewhat more intriguing.  It might even be a positive development.  Not too many people enjoy receiving unsolicited sales calls; but it might be interesting to get a call from a really well-informed sales agent.  At least at first, it would have some novelty value: a telemarketer that could not only answer your questions, but answer them correctly.

 


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