IBM to release tailor-made Watson AI packages for business

Nine sectors, from farming to HR, will benefit from IBM's largest ever analytics and predictive AI toolset

IBM has launched a set of pre-trained AI-powered Watson services for industries ranging from the supply chain to customer experience.

Agricultural firms will benefit from a unified and predictive view on the masses of data available from satellite imagery to IoT-ready tractors in a single app, while advertisers can use Watson to design campaigns based on shifting weather patterns.

"As data flows continue to increase, people are overwhelmed by the amount of information we have to act on every day," said IBM's senior vice president for cognitive solutions, David Kenny. "But luckily the information explosion coincides with another key technological advance: artificial intelligence.

"AI is the tool professionals need to take advantage of the data that's now at our fingertips and tailoring general AI for specific industries and professions is a critical way to enable everyone to reach new potential in their daily jobs."

Each industry-specific package is in a different stage of development, but each one aims to give professionals added insights by using AI to process and interpret the wealth of data that is already collected.

Watson Supply Chain Insights for instance, which is available now, uses a tailor-made iteration of Watson to keep an eye on five aspects of the supply chain including weather, traffic reports, and regulatory reports to provide a wider view on supply needs.

IBM's HR offering, meanwhile, sifts through a company's employees from a range of backgrounds to identify the best-performing and can flag the most promising applicants in a hiring process. IBM says it has helped companies like BuzzFeed and H&R Block increase efficiency during their hiring processes.

The full list of industries IBM will target includes agriculture, customer services, human resources, marketing, advertising, manufacturing for industrial equipment, buildings, vehicle development, and the supply chain.

IBM's latest announcement is part of a wider trend of tech giants developing tailor-made AI tools for individual industries and businesses. Watson's nine pre-designed services follow Microsoft's announcement of an AI-ready Cortana Skills for Enterprises package that provides tailored voice services to specific industries.

Concerns, however, remain over whether AI deployed in certain sensitive contexts, such as hiring, will exhibit the same, or even a completely different set of biases that the technology is purported to eliminate.

For example researchers from MIT this month found that AI-powered robots could even develop biases without human input, with prejudices developing and intensifying naturally.

It follows comments by the World Economic Forum's head of AI and machine learning Kay Firth-Butterfield, who argued the dominance of "white men of a certain age" in building the underlying technology was the root cause of creeping bias in AI algorithms.

IBM says its new AI functionality for HR aims to address unconscious human biases, with traditional hiring practices described as limited' without hiring managers able to make the most of analytics and AI's predictive abilities.

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