Watson's Law: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty hails unique new era of exponential learning
IBM chief executive and chairman Ginni Rometty says the world, and the company, is at the start of a seismic technological shift that occurs only once every 25 years and will be driven by artificial intelligence.
Speaking at the company's first THINK conference, which is expected to attract 40,000 people from across the world over three days, Ms Rometty said for the third time in 60 years the foundations were right for an "exponential shift" in technology to an era of exponential learning, driven by data.
"You might call it a watershed moment, an urgent moment, a critical moment, but none of them seem truly sufficient for this very unique moment," she said.
"Something happens when both business and technology architectures change at the same time and you look back in time and it's about every 25 years and it has the potential to change everything.
"It's a business that can learn exponentially and if you learn exponentially you become the disrupted, versus being disrupted."
Ms Rometty said while the previous major technological shifts had been deemed Moore's Law (transistors doubled every 18 months), followed by Metcalfe's Law (the principle that the value of the network is equal to the square of the nodes in the network), the next wave would be known as Watson's Law, after the tech giant's cognitive computer.
"Take all the data... add AI to it and that's what I mean by you get exponential learning," she said. "The ultimate competitive advantage of that is that you out-learn every body else. The corollary to that law is that contrary to conventional wisdom out there, many can win. Not just a few companies and if you ask why, the answer is the data."
For the past 25 years IBM has been granted the most patents of any company in the US. In 2017, it received 9043 patents, 3300 more than the next highest company Samsung.
These patents, which were granted to researchers in 47 countries, include inventions to help personalise AI speech, better manage self-driving cars and use blockchain to efficiently process transactions.
Ms Rometty, who is the first female chief executive in the 106-year-old company's history, has transformed the business to have an emphasis on services and research around artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cloud and blockchain. She received her biggest bonus as leader of the company last year after IBM's shares rose for the first time in four years in 2016.
As part of her keynote speech on Tuesday night, Ms Rometty touched on a range of major announcements from IBM, including an expansion of its deal with Apple that will see the tech companies join their AI and machine learning technologies, giving the 16 million developers creating apps for iOS access to Watson.
Apple and IBM will also launch a new developer console that lets Swift (Apple's coding language) developers use the IBM Cloud to build apps that are easier to code.
Ms Rometty also announced that IBM would be making its Watson Studio, which is IBM's service for building machine learning workflows and training models, available in the public cloud. This will let companies train Watson with their own data in the cloud, but then run them anywhere and keep the data within the company.
IBM also launched an enterprise voice assistant, like Siri or Alexa for corporates, named Watson Assistant.
To support this new era of data and exponential learning, Ms Rometty said IBM had bulked up its capability in emerging technologies and now had 8000 cyber security experts, 15,000 designers, 1500 blockchain staff and 1200 risk and compliance specialists within IBM.
She said the change in technology would lead to 100 per cent of jobs changing in all industries, but not everyone would have to have a PhD or university degree.
"It comes down on all of us to prepare the world and everyone to have these new skills," Ms Rometty said.
"We've even coined a phrase called 'new collar', not blue collar, not white collar. No stigma. It applies to mid career re-training and we're spending $US500 million ($650 million) on re-training every year and it's the point that we can't think of education ending at grade 12 or even grade 16. It will be lifelong.
"It's going to be man and machine, not man versus machine."
The writer travelled as a guest of IBM.