Siri stumped? Call Watson

Siri stumped? Call Watson

Summary: Compared to Apple's Siri, IBM's Watson is a speech recognition genius. But the tech is too big and powerful to cram into a mobile device. That's about to change.


Compared to Apple's Siri speech-activated personal assistant, IBM's Watson is a genius.

Zooey Deschanel might ask Siri, "Is that rain?"

She might ask Watson, "Who's the author that wrote, 'It was a dark and stormy night'?"

(Edward Bulwer-Lytton, for the literary-minded among you.)

Until now, Watson's tech has been too big to cram into a mobile device. All those smarts takes a room full of servers, an incredible amount of calculations and a thick wire into the electrical mains.

That's about to change.

The power consumption behind Watson's performance is "dropping like a stone," IBM's Bernie Meyerson told Bloomberg, and that means Watson 2.0 may be mobile-ready.

(Don't get your polysilicon in a twist just yet, Siri.)

That's a big deal for IBM, which has been using Watson's brains to crunch huge datasets for financial services firms (e.g. Citigroup) and healthcare groups (WellPoint) alike. It's also a big deal for Nuance, the company behind Siri's speech recognition abilities, which also happens to own and license several IBM patents related to it.

But how and where the companies will meet is unclear. IBM has always targeted the enterprise; Nuance has played both sides but is popular with consumers, thanks to the iPhone. IBM needs more "senses" to play ball, and Siri could use more brains.

The most obvious place these two sets of technologies converge? The workplace. The consumerization of the enterprise is well underway, and the most obvious place where those collide -- your brought-from-home mobile device that you use for work and play -- is already in your pocket.

"Siri, how many ZDNet readers unsubscribed from our newsletters, on average, over the last 18 months?

"Siri, how's our EBITDA looking? Are we on track?"

Or if you're in healthcare: "Siri, what are the pros and cons of patient 67 taking tigecycline?"

Or if you're in the public sector: "Siri, which intersections have had the most collisions in the last six months?"

You get the point. We're still several years off from Watson-on-the-go, but the possibilities are tantalizing. The business implications? Even better.

Topic: IBM

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Jump from Siri to Watson?

    That's like saying:
    Trying to figure out what 1+1 equals and your 6 month old baby is stumped? Call Stephen Hawkins.

    Siri is widely renowned as a joke. It is the worst of all the voice assistants out there.

    Oh, but that's okay, Siri is beta and Apple makes that really clear in all of their celebrity TV ads.

    Oh wait, no, they don't.
    • Widely renowned as a joke?

      That applies equally to your posts Toddy.

      Siri is hardly the worst of all of the voice assistants out there, not by any stretch. I have no issues with it on a jailbroken iPhone 4... the ones for Android Gingerbread and below are crap. The ones for ICS or JB might be better but as I'm STILL waiting for the promised ICS upgrade on my HTC TBolt I could not tell you for sure.
      • Yes, Siri is a joke

        Everyone knows it. Numerous tests have even exposed Apple as completely fabricating their Siri advertisements. When you playback what the actors say into a real iPhone 4S, Siri gets confused and doesn't respond the way it does in the advertisement. Apple is a fraud.

        Google gets top marks in every comparison. Even MS's alternatives have been proven to be far superior in head to head tests.
        • Toddy...such bold, unsourced, blanket statements

          "Everyone knows it" "Numerous tests" "completely faking" "proven to be far superior"

          It's not that I doubt your sincerity, but, it would be nice to see a link to some credible source backing up these statements. Specifically....which which credible source showed that Apple fabricated their Siri ads. And...which head to head tests showed that currently shipping MS products are far superior to Siri.

          And, please...don't cite an Android fan page as a credible source like you did yesterday. Seriously!

          I wait in anxious expectation.
      • Weren't you the one....

        In another article talkin about how jailbroken/rooted phones means the OS (regardless if it's IOS or Android) isn't up to scratch?
    • 1+1

      Everyone knows 1+1=2, but the way to express it is:
      ln⁡[lim┬(n→∞)⁡〖(1+1/n)^n 〗 ]+(sin^2⁡x+cos^2⁡x) =∑_(n=0)^∞ cosh y〖√(1-tanh^2⁡〖y 〗 )〗/2^n
      I can't write this as it would appear from the Ms Word equation editor here, so to get the whole story visit the link. (That is how it is translated above from Ms Word's equation Editor)

      Since he brought it up, I had to chime in. The one I have is a reprint from Rutgers Engineer 1985.
    • siri loves stallions

      I loved that
  • Siri, how many ZDNet readers unsubscribed from our newsletters...

    You can add one more to that if this is ZDNet's standards for reporting. I see the real editorial is in your second link on

    I wonder who I should be subscribing too... :-\
    • ROTFLMAO!!!!

      Dude!!!! (or Dudette)

      You are like soooo funny!

      Get real. You think this is bad? Go give BGR a ride.
    • Who to suscribe too [sic]?

      Maybe subscribe to a grammar correction service.

      BTW, in 1987, in the Dark Ages, the British series Star Cops had a verbal computer interface called, and resembling, a "Box." It went off into databases and brought back information for the lead Star Cop: prior art to Siri, perhaps grounds for a nice lawsuit against Apple?
      common sense
      • Pot, Kettle,

        meet run on sentences with incorrect punctuation... :-\
      • Cute reference, but ...

        ... it's getting old having to explain to folks that movie & tv props don't constitute "prior art." They're props -- realistic or otherwise. The USPTO doesn't recognize them as anything other than make-believe.
        • Not necessarily

          When Arthur C Clarke first proposed communication satellites, the idea was not patentable because it could not be done at the state of the art.

          When it became possible to do, it was not patentable because it was no longer an "original idea", having become a standard trope of both SF and engineering discussion.
  • Im fine with it taking up a room full of server as long as I can

    send it queries from my phone and it can send me back the answers. No reason not to be using it now as is. Hey IBM where's the Watson App? You could have made millions off it by now.
    Johnny Vegas
    • hey, Johnny

      are you excited to learn that IBM Watson runs SUSE Linux Enterprise Server !
    • Fine?

      You are fine with the stuff taking up a room, but are you fine with paying the bill for the electricity it consumes? Or for the electricity the cooling system consumes? How about both?

      But nothing prevents you from having an Watson in your basement. :)
    • Where is the watson app???

      You do realize that this is the same company that sluffed off personal computers and lost that entire market to MS because of how painfully slow and old fashioned they are? IBM could have led everything at many times in computer history but they are too slow, too old, too fat, and too stupid.
      • You realize

        that IBM re-built it's business model and is quite successful?
  • What about understanding pronunciation of non english speakers?

    Those whose english is second, third or fourth language find it too difficult to use these voice assistant applications. This becomes complex with non-European names such as "Call Dakshin Prabhakaran"; most aplications fail to understand it completely.

    If Watson is likely to be so intelligent, I would like to see it understanding english pronunciation of non-english speakers.
    • Not just non-English speakers

      I call it "barbed wire," while a Texan says "bob-wahr." Regional accents can confuse people, not to mention computer programs.