IBM’s Dr. John Kelly Is Bringing Watson To Disrupt SF

IBM’s Dr. John Kelly is joining the TechCrunch crew onstage at this year’s Disrupt SF. But he won’t be alone. Instead, Kelly is bringing Watson along with him.

Watson is an IBM project that answers questions using artificial intelligence to accept and process natural language queries. It became known to the public for its exploits in the Jeopardy game show, if you recall.

IBM’s ambition for Watson is not small. In early 2014, its parent corporation formed the IBM Watson Group in New York with several thousand denizens. At the time, IBM pledged $1 billion to the group, while announcing a number of new Watson capabilities, including a tool to accelerate research and a service to visualize “big data insights,” to quote its own language.

Component to the $1 billion pledge was a $100 million venture fund, designed to encourage startups to leverage Watson technology. It will be interesting to hear how well that effort has gone: Are any Watson-focused startups unicorns?

Watson learns first by being fed large amounts of domain information — a “corpus” in IBM’s parlance. It is then trained with various intra-domain question pairs, helped by human experts. After enough training, Watson continues to refine its understanding and answer questions about the domain itself.

IBM is rapidly building out Watson’s capabilities. Listed on the Watson Developer Cloud page are services like “language translation,” and “personality insights,” which I recommend playing with. On the same page, IBM notes that “concept expansion,” “relationship extraction,” and “question and answer” are all currently in beta.

In short, IBM has big plans for Watson, which, through its Developer Cloud service, fits into IBM’s broader cloud push. The company listed three core objectives in its last earnings report: cloud, analytics and engagement. So Watson is part of what IBM envisions to be its future.

Having Kelly on stage should be a treat. We’ll see you all there.

To hear our excellent speakers and more at Disrupt SF at San Francisco’s historic Pier 70, purchase tickets (at special early-bird prices) right here.

Our sponsors help make Disrupt happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact our sponsorship team at