Wildcats at IBM World of Watson

“Next year, every organization in this room will be working with or experiencing the benefits of Watson. The future is man and machine, not man versus machine.”
– David Kenny, General Manager, IBM Watson

I am incredibly honored and humbled to have been able to attend the IBM World of Watson (WoW) conference that recently took place in Las Vegas. It was there that I heard the above quote and it made me realize the endless possibilities enabled by technology, and how rapidly it is evolving, faster than we can absorb at this time. I heard multiple keynotes that hit on the concerns with artificial intelligence (AI) including the use of the word “augmented” intelligence since “artificial” has had fear and stigma attached to it from its inception. The conference helped everyone understand how AI is already here – not really a thing of the future, and how it’s changing aspects in every industry.

By working with Professor Randy Hlavac and Daniel Lan on a first-of-a-kind project called Northwestern University Analytics Insights, I was able to attend the WoW conference. Initially, the project scope was fairly vague and there were many unanswered questions. As professor Randy says, “I don’t know what I don’t know, but I know how to find the right people who know,” which sent us on a quest to learn and understand how to bring this project to fruition and find the partners to collaborate. We did exactly that at the conference when we met Dr. Tim Pavlick, an accomplished CTO at IBM. Our 30-minute chat turned into a 4-hour working session. Dr. Pavlick was so generous in answering all of our questions. We were all in awe of his ability to explain complicated concepts in “English” that we could understand. Just from this one meeting, we had Dr. Pavlick’s commitment in supporting this amazing project and strengthening this IBM + Northwestern collaboration.

There were several fun booths at the conference. At one, I helped make Watson smarter by interacting with “him”. At another booth called “Cognitive T-shirts by Think Marketing”, Watson designed a personalized t-shirt for me based on my responses to some questions and using its cognitive technology. The t-shirt design Watson chose was “Zen”.

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“Zen” Personalized T-Shirt from Watson

Next, I visited I’m an Infographic” at the conference. This infographic was created just for me with three unique Watson APIs – AlchemyLanguage, Tone Analyzer and Personality Insights. It deduced that for 98% of the time I’m perceived as “Joyous”. I am very happy  amber4.png to hear that.

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It was a great networking opportunity to meet with specialists in the field of artificial intelligence. One item to note is the importance of social media as a medium to stay engaged with industry experts. Twitter was often noted as the media to use to tweet about #ibmwow #WOW2016.


Other key takeaways from the conference included:

  • Innovation is growing at a rapid pace, and with advancements in cognitive computing, this growth rate is exponential.
  • Machines are picking up and analyzing information at higher rate than humans have the capacity to do. It’ll be interesting to witness the next few years unfold with regards to how machines will be used compared to humans.
  • There are so many sources of knowledge and information and it’s important to keep up with the industry in this ever changing world.
  • AI is already here and here to stay, this time with IBM leading the pack. The four big themes at the conference were redefining development, transforming industries, monetizing data, and re-imagining professions.

Since meeting Dr. Pavlick at the conference, we have officially kicked off NUAI with IBM and hosted several other IBM officials along with other major stakeholders at Northwestern. This is an incredible project where it is of utmost importance that all the colleges within Northwestern collaborate together to make this work. We have a tight timeline and will be heavily engrossed in NUAI with the help of IBM and few other Wildcats called “Resident Geniuses”, a term given to us work-horses by Professor Randy.

I thank professors Mark Werwath and Randy Hlavac for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this amazing project that will revolutionize how entrepreneurs go about their journey towards building successful products. Both professors truly help students receive maximum benefits while being a part of Northwestern. I’ll be happy to talk to any students about this project and its progression. Let me know if you would like to be a part of NUAI in the future.


About the author: Amber Aggarwal is a part-time student in the MEM program, now finishing his final quarter. He currently works at Motorola Mobility. If you would like to contact him about the NUAI project, he may be reached at:  Amberaggarwal2017[at]u.northwestern.edu

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