A Great Simian or just a Monkey

Month: October 2016


Watson Beat – a computer that creates music

What is Watson Beat? It is a cognitive technology that makes original music inspired by songs you play for 15-20s. Sounds bananas I know, but this could really be a game changer since Watson Beat creates music completely without bias and trends.

UPDATE: As gdf pointed out in the comments, Watson Beat is now open sourced. So if you want to play around with Watson beat, just go to the Watson Beat github page.

Most Watson services are built to learn and from that reason and suggest solutions to our questions, that is not the case with Watson Beat. Watson Beat is “inspired” by the music we play for him and then he creates a new song based on that inspiration. Since Watson is not taught by being played thousands of songs as he was with movie-trailers when he created the Morgan trailer, but being taught “music” (what pitch is etc) he will create songs without sounding like everything else and therefore actually contribute to potentially new genres or new trends in music. I think we all remember those years when everything that was released sounded like it was produced by Timbaland (and mostly was)?

“Watson Beat is not constrained by normal human biases, and those biases can actually get in our way,” says Rob High CTO IBM Watson.

You can often hear slight traces of the original song, but that is not always the case. Here is the Set from Soundcloud.

I first noted that Watson Beat was in the making when I stumbled upon the IBM Research Soundcloud account and found a set that was named Watson Beat. At that time I tried to find more information, but it was a dead end for me, I just found out it was an IBM Research project that might be released.

Just recently I found this Facebook Live video with the two individuals that build Watson Beat at IBM Research. In the video, Janani Mukundan, a machine learning researcher at the IBM Austin Lab and musician Richard Daskas, say that the app hopefully will be released by the end of 2016 and, more importantly, it will be released as Open Source.

I think it is a very interesting project and looking forward to play with the app when it is released.

Since Watson is a cloud service, security and data privacy are important. This paper on Watson, Watson Developer Cloud, Bluemix and Softlayer is a great overview that should bring some clarity and comfort on the topic.
Watson Developer Cloud Services Security Overview

The gap between words and action in cognitive business

One of the biggest challenges with the cognitive era and for enterprises to adopt this shift is in my opinion, two things. The first is the gap between the tech and the business, which leads to the constant question “How do we start?”. The second one is that most companies selling this tech have a salesforce that is used to sell other things and have not had time to adapt to selling cloud-based cognitive solutions to their customers.


The gap between tech and business

Traditionally companies selling software to the enterprises have a preset business proposition. An example is SAP for financial or Salesforce CRM for sales. If we go a bit more tech it can be a database to store things in or it can be an application server to have our apps running. With AI and cognitive computing, it is something else. We hear all these execs talk and talk about how great cognitive businesses, products and processes will be, but how do we convert these high-level talks to become concrete solutions that will evolve our business? I read a post on the Watson blog the other day and it contained a video of several execs from IBMs Watson unit that talked about how great cognitive business and cognitive computing are (IBM is an example, it could be Google, Facebook or Microsoft, but since I often post pro-IBM posts they can be the example in this post). Try to make something out of the video that you and I can convert into real-life adoption. Really hard, isn’t it?

Additional fun from the video:

  1. The title of the video is “How IT and Watson are partnering in the Cognitive Era”. Ok, what does that even mean? The video does not give a single indication on how IT and Watson even partner, on what level or in what way?
  2. A quote from the video “Adopting cognitive solutions is not as difficult as it sounds!” I agree, but the “how” or “why” is completely absent.
  3. What the heck is Watson anyway? Is it a product, a suite, a platform, APIs, a human, a computer,? If it is supposed to be easy, like the video insinuates, it might be a good idea to make that crystal clear what Watson really is. If you have read some of my posts you hopefully know the answer though.

Number 3 in the list is a big challenge I would say. It needs to be very clear what Watson is for companies to grasp the potential of what they can do with cognitive solutions like Watson (I think it is the same with Googles products within this space). In Watsons case it gives each salesperson the right to interpret this to their benefit. This happens every day at IBM when sales uses the Watson terminology to push clients towards “their” Watson product (if in Analytics, you sell Watson Analytics, if in Cloud you sell Bluemix and the Watson APIs etc). From a short-term pipeline point of view it might be good, but for the customers I doubt it is good.

We need to bridge the gap between high-level executives like those in the video and the APIs, this so it becomes easier for companies to actually adopt and become more cognitive. If this does not happen I am afraid many companies will miss huge opportunities and the cognitive software providers will miss out on great revenues from their great software.

What happens today is that you get either the high-level exec buzzword-ish mumbo jumbo or the deep deep tech talks about how the tech actually work, usually only with one single API (or pre-packaged solution like Watson Virtual Assistant). That will not build great cognitive businesses.

A new salesman / women is required

Selling cognitive solutions requires a new type of salesperson. The classic software sales rep has a portfolio of boxes that is dressed up for each company it is presented to and wrapped in a nice business case, usually a business case that is applicable to many customers, not only one. The new type of salesperson needs to look at things differently, it is mainly about creating the value proposition together with the customer. Cognitive is not a product it is an enabler to make your business better and faster. It is up to us as sales and business developers to actually understand and apply these new technologies to our clients and customers. Why is this a problem? Simple, customers do not get the best solutions presented to them by their salesreps. They get pre-fabricated food, when they could get the two-star Guide Michelin dinner. They would probably pay less as well and get a solution that over-delivered on their expectations.

Why sell pre-fabricated frozen pizza when you can sell a personal dinner at a 2 star Guide Michelin restaurant?

Companies that sell cognitive computing APIs like Watson need to shift to a new salesforce. Another great thing is that this new salesforce will also think cloud-first and not old on-prem software. They will understand how these cognitive APIs exist in the cloud in a secure and compliance ready way. Most of your old salesreps will have a really hard time converting their old way of selling to selling APIs in the cloud (at least in the right way). I would say that the only way to trigger a shift of the old reps is to change how they are compensated and completely shift to cloud based incentives, otherwise they will stick to their old stuff (I sell what I know works).

This post is almost without a specific topic, just one thing I felt needed out of my system. Salesreps, get your act together and start to sell real value to your clients, they will appreciate it. Put in the extra work to build a case for your clients that match their needs and their business, they will value it and it will hopefully be a fruitful relationship for everyone involved.


Photo credit: Origami T-Rex by Jo Nakashima

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