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Ben Heiser, Copywriter

05 May, 2016

The evolution was televised.

On February 14th 2011, IBM’s Watson took on the best minds that ever crossed Jeopardy’s hallowed stage. Ken Jennings, famous for effortlessly gliding through 74 games in a row, and Brad Rutter faced off against IBM’s masterpiece. The physical manifestation of Watson stood in the center stage, flanked by its organic opponents. Its empty matte black screen was eerily reminiscent of the onyx monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, save for a bright blue glowing orb, IBM’s Smarter Planet logo, bobbing in the center of the screen.

Then Alex Trebek crossed the stage and the show began. Clue after clue, Watson’s buzzer chimed, a brilliant staccato, as its machine mind correctly chewed through question after question. In the end, Watson won in a landslide. Machine had triumphed over man.

For most viewers, that’s where our relationship with Watson ended. We watched the show, apprehensively marveled at Watson’s performance with our co-workers, but that was it. To us, Watson was just a party trick. The Deep Blue of our time.

But IBM kept tweaking and tinkering. And Watson started to transform.

I was reintroduced to Watson at the Marketing Idea Exchange, last week. Steve Gold, Watson’s CMO, gave the keynote presentation on Watson’s progress. I naively wondered beforehand, if Watson would make an appearance. But the Watson I was picturing was just the Watson avatar from Jeopardy. In reality, Watson isn’t a physical screen tethered to a back-room mainframe.

Watson lives in the cloud.

Which means Watson is already everywhere. And as Steve paced through his presentation, it became apparent just how multifaceted Watson had become. Like a proud parent, Steve paraded Watson’s achievements to the crowd. All of them far more substantial and practical than being crowned the king of Jeopardy. Through the lens of the projector, Watson’s purpose came into focus:

Watson is the answer to our biggest questions.

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And just in the nick of time, too. Our phones, computers, credit cards, and behaviors are constantly coughing out a smog of data. Data is everywhere and the amount we produce is growing exponentially — 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

Steve mentioned it early in his speech. “We are inundated with Big Data. Its volume is insurmountably accelerating,” he said. Even if we raised an army of the greatest data crunchers the world had ever seen, we wouldn’t even scratch the surface. Watson, however, can analyze it in a matter of seconds.

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I sat in my chair, mouth agape, in awe at what Watson could do. What Watson could learn.

The biggest triumph was Watson’s Tone Analyzer. As a marketer, imagine being able to understand exactly what your target audience is most receptive to. Imagine a detailed breakdown of how they speak, or whether they’re angry, happy, or sad. Imagine targeting them with messaging that speaks like they do.

Tone Analyzer can be used to create real-time, individual psychographic profiles that will fuel better marketing. Both Steve and IBM are extremely excited about it. He called it “marketing of 1.” It gives marketers untold power, but also, hopefully, balances the relevance of the maelstrom of advertising for the people who trudge through it every day.

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As a copywriter, writing empathetically to the faceless masses of the Internet can be difficult. With Watson, I have the chance not only to understand who I’m speaking to, but know who they are. Which means I can create content that has more relevancy and value than any clickbait listicle who’s shocking discovery will leave you questioning your entire existence.

It’s clear that Watson is here to change the world. The exponential curve of computing power has officially rocketed off the spreadsheet and into the stratosphere. Watson is no longer just some trivia wiz, wheeled in for our amusement. Watson is our machete-wielding guide through the jungle of data. And like any good guide, it works best out in front, parting the brush so that we, as marketers, can follow.