The new president of IBM explains how its new products will demonstrate 'how far advanced' the company actually is at AI (IBM)


IBM President Jim Whitehurst

  • New IBM President Jim Whitehurst unveiled a new IBM initiative in artificial intelligence — itself a key focus area for the tech giant under new CEO Arvind Krishna.
  • Whitehurst is the former CEO of Red Hat, which Big Blue acquired for $34 billion. 
  • IBM is introducing a new enterprise product based on Watson, its vaunted artificial intelligence technology. Watson AIOps will help large corporations use AI to monitor their enterprise networks and flag glitches before they cause an outage.
  • “You don’t see how far advanced IBM is in areas of AI,” Whitehurst told Business Insider. “It’s a marketing problem we have to figure out how to solve. But I’ve been really impressed with the depth, the technical expertise.”
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As CEO of Red Hat, Jim Whitehurst had witnessed the “massive momentum” of artificial intelligence in the last few years. But IBM’s new president said he had been underwhelmed by the role that the tech powerhouse had played in the trend, especially given IBM’s vaunted leadership in AI.

AI, which had been an esoteric field of study in universities and big corporate labs like IBM Research, took off as a widely-used technology in the last five years, highlighted by the popularity of such tools as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.

“Frankly, you didn’t see IBM much there,” Whitehurst told Business Insider.

Whitehurst, who joined the IBM leadership in January after its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, said he now has a deeper appreciation of the tech behemoth’s capabilities, particularly in AI, which new CEO Arvind Krishna has said will be a key area of focus for Big Blue.

On Tuesday, Whitehurst unveiled IBM’s new offensive on AI. 

The company announced a new offering based on Watson, IBM’s flagship AI technology famous for impressive feats such as beating humans in Jeopardy.  IBM is deploying the technology to monitor enterprise networks, and rapidly detect problems. The new product, called Watson AIOps, is designed to flag network glitches that Whitehurst said could cost roughly $260,000 an hour if left unchecked.

A bigger push

The new Watson product is part of IBM’s aggressive push to deploy its AI technology for more commercial applications. 

Two months ago, IBM also unveiled a new AI initiative based on Project Debater, which drew media attention by engaging in a debate with humans. IBM announced it was incorporating features from that project into Watson to give businesses more language-based capabilities in mining and analyzing their data.

Rob Thomas, an IBM senior vice president for cloud and data platform, said the initiative underscored a new push to turn IBM’s research into viable products faster. “There was a lot of stuff we were doing that wasn’t getting into products that I thought was a big opportunity,” he told Business Insider.

And there are many more opportunities, said Whitehurst. One of the things that became clearer to him since joining the IBM leadership is the tech giant’s impressive tech arsenal, he says. That includes AI, where IBM’s strengths are legendary, although they are not as widely known as the consumer-facing tools.

“The problem, frankly, is because we are really focused on enterprise specific business process problems, it’s not something you see out in the press, like the Alexa speakers or any of that stuff,” Whitehurst said.

“You don’t see how far advanced IBM is in areas of AI, right. It’s a marketing problem we have to figure out how to solve. But I’ve been really impressed with the depth, the technical expertise.”

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SEE ALSO: Meet 12 power players on new IBM CEO Arvind Krishna’s team as he navigates the toughest leadership transition in the tech giant’s history

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