IBM Watson might be disappointing as a money-maker, but it's still a Jeopardy champ

Turns out IBM’s television-famous Watson is disappointing its human creators, the Wall Street Journal reports. (Here’s a ZDNet rewrite for those who don’t subscribe to the Journal.)

Somewhere Ken Jennings is laughing. You remember, right? Jennings was the record-setting “Jeopardy” champion who took on Watson in the popular game show — and lost. It was a stunning machine over man moment.

Watson might be looking back wistfully. The Journal says that Watson, a pop culture icon in the field of cognitive computing, has brought in less than $100 million for Big Blue, which has big plans for its creation.

Now if my kid or your kid brought in $100 million in three years, we’d probably be happy. But IBM has very big dreams for its baby.

According to the Journal:

“IBM Chief Executive Virginia “Ginni” Rometty has told executives she hopes Watson will generate $10 billion in annual revenue within 10 years, according to an October 2013 conference-call transcript reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. She set that target after the executive in charge of Watson said its business plan would bring in $1 billion of revenue a year by 2018. That would make Watson the fastest IBM business unit to reach the $1 billion milestone. “

Better get moving Watson.

Anyway, I take all this somewhat personally as I bonded with Watson last year at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I wrote about that for SiliconBeat.

The museum has on display the original Watson set from Jeopardy, complete with a Watson simulator that takes on all comers in the TV game.

Yes, the history museum version of Watson waxed me.

The event was part of a mixed week for Watson. IBM director of research John Kelly III was on hand to celebrate the opening of the museum’s exhibit.

Museum officials and Watson fans gathered for a reception and a talk on cognitive computing — the sort of computing that focuses on building computers that can teach themselves things. (The New York Times John Markoff wrote an interesting piece recently about some other initiatives in the field.)

The history museum week was also the week the New York Times reported that the National Security Agency and the CIA had been testing Watson in connection with the massive data hoovering operation known as PRISM.

Kelly diplomatically told me at the time that “We don’t talk about any of our customers.” Especially top secret ones, no doubt.

Anyway, I’ll be rooting for Watson to make a comeback. And given that cognitive computing is in its infancy, it just might.

Mike Cassidy Mike Cassidy (173 Posts)

I write about the culture of Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News.