IBM's Watson supercomputer, made famous by beating two expert humans on the TV game show Jeopardy, has since been making his living by using his super-intelligent knowledge base for business
verticals, like medicine. Now, IBM is working with financial services provider USAA to employ Watson in his first consumer-facing role.
USAA specializes in offering services to current and former members of the U.S. military. The Watson Engagement Advisor pilot program is designed to assist military men and women transition to civilian life through natural language-based remote access to the supercomputer.
Soon-to-be-civilian military personnel who are USAA members will be able to ask the ex-Jeopardy champ questions relating to making the transition. According to Big Blue, Watson has been spending his spare time digesting and analyzing over 3,000 documents on transition-related subjects, including USAA's business data, so he apparently knows something about the subject.
Possible topics of inquiries could include job searching, moving, insurance, home buying, or military benefits. The project is intended to help define the ways in which a digital assistant -- who learns as he interacts and as he is asked to find connections -- can gain value and provide quality advice.
One way Watson differs from a regular search engine or a directory is that he is designed to understand the context around questions that people ask. Visitors to the USAA Web site will be able to type in questions and receive answers from Watson, and he can also direct them to Web pages with relevant information.
Mike Rhodin, SVP of the IBM Watson Group, said in a statement that, through this pilot, "we expect to learn how intelligent assistants like IBM Watson can help service members who may not know exactly where or how to start the daunting transition process."
155,000 Military Personnel
Watson will certainly be kept busy. About 155,000 military personnel move from active duty to civilian life every year. IBM and USAA said that typical questions might be, "Can I be in the reserve and collect veteran's compensation benefits?" or "How do I make the most of the post-9/11 GI Bill?" Inquiries can be made to Watson via a desktop or laptop computer, or through a mobile device.
USAA is known for the quality of its customer service, so the addition of Watson has the potential to take that to a new level -- or diminish that reputation.
USAA EVP of member experience Shon Manasco told news media, "Through this experience, we expect to learn how intelligent assistants like IBM Watson can help service members who may not know exactly where or how to start the daunting transition process."
IBM is positioning this Watson Engagement Advisor as a service to help companies interact with customers. It said that the Watson remote service can be used to help customer service agents, or it can interact directly with customers over the cloud. Its key features, the company said, include using big data to make evidence-based decisions, and helping organizations better understand customers through patterns in their past histories.