Thursday, October 28, 2010

IBM Information On Demand 2010 - The Final Keynote

The keynote session for the third day of the IOD conference features the authors of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I've read their first book and it is an excellent read... I highly recommend it.

But, of course, there are the IBMers that must speak first. The session kicked off with a video on intelligence being infused into the devices we use in our everyday life. And this “smarter planer” improves our life in countless ways. Smart grids, smart healthcare, smart supply chains, etc. All of which make us more productive and effective not just in business, but in all aspects of our lives. IBM calls this the “Decade of Smart.”

The first part of the session then featured Mike Rhodin, Sr. VP IBM Software Solutions Group. He indicated that we are at the beginning of what is going to constitute massive changes to the way we look at and solve problems. He explained by talking about solutions for commerce that have changed over the last decade or so. The experience is vastly different today across the board. This is so in terms of how buying decisions are made, how buying is done, and how the transaction is completed.

But how can we know what the customer of the future wants? The idea now is to look at how you can leverage things like social media to perform “sentiment analysis” to engage in conversation. By making it a dialogue instead of a one way street we can start this transformation.

He talked about a Southwest flier who was dissatisfied by a delay and tweeted about it. A few days later a Southwest representative contacted him and offered him “something” to assuage his dissatisfaction. Although that is good, he said it would have been better if the Southwest rep was waiting for him at the gate at his destination. OK, but in my opinion, it would have been even better if the Southwest rep could have made contact before the plane took off (either on the plane or at the gate if they had not yet boarded).

Next up was Brenda Dietrich, VP Business Analytics and Mathematical Sciences and IBM Research. It was good to hear from someone in the research group because they don't get "out" to speak much. Dietrich espoused the global reach of IBM’s research group with 9 major offices across the world and many more co-laboratories, which are smaller labs with the goal of working with more local talent.

If it has to do with the future of technology, IBM Research is probably involved in it. Examples include nanotechnology, supercomputing and workload-optimized systems, cloud computing, and analytics.

The future of the “smarter planet” is at optimizing individual systems, like an electrical grid. And then developing systems of systems where those individual systems interact with other systems. For example, where the electrical grid interacts with the traffic grid. Additionally, today things are being digitized and we are analyzing and reacting to this information. We are moving toward using this information to model and predict outcomes.

She also discussed an analytics project called Smart Enterprise Executive Decision Support (SEEDS). It is a super-dashboard that IBM Research is working on. It incorporated a common data model with multiple IBM technologies to perform analytics that delivers better answers. Sounds exciting to me!

And IBM Research has even created a computer that plays Jeopardy! The video she played that demonstrated that was very impressive. This is especially so because it understood the questions in natural language, which is very difficult for computers to accomplish.

Then the Freakonomics dudes came out. And they were very entertaining. They took turns telling stories. Levitt is the economist and Dubner is the writer, but both were eloquent speakers who mixed information with humor extremely well. Dubner started out with my favorite story from their first book: how the legalization of abortion led to a decrease in crime. If that surprises you, you really need to read the book(s).

Levitt followed and told the story of how adding social security number to the tax forms caused 7 million children to vanish from the face of the Earth. It turns out that Americans are very immoral and had created children for the tax deduction. Levitt had troubles believing this until he talked to his father and was told that he himself had lost two brothers!

I would try to explain how they then moved from trying to teach monkeys to use money to a discussion of the proper pricing for prostitution services... but it would be far better if you read about it in their book(s). I know after seeing them that I am going to buy their new book, SuperFreakonomics.

All in all, though, it was a thoroughly entertaining and education final keynote session at the IOD show.

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