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IBM CEO Ginni Rometty: Darn Agile for a 106-Year-Old

IBM uses the phrase "cognitive computing" as well as "AI," because the company sees the role of AI as augmenting people, not replacing them, Rometty said.

Principled use of AI -- or cognitive computing -- requires transparency, Rometty said. People need to be told what data is being used for AI, and who trained the AI.

"You can train bias if you're not careful," Rometty noted. (See MIT Technology Review: Forget Killer Robots – Bias Is the Real AI Danger.)

In the future, people will work with machines everywhere. "It will be man and machine for everything," Rometty said. "We have to prepare the world for that. That's not a small thing."

Every company will transform to digital -- which means data will make the difference between winners and losers, Rometty said. "If everyone is digital then who wins?"

The value of data will give incumbent companies -- who already have data on their business -- competitive advantage. "If you have a past, it just may be to your advantage now. You'll be a learning organization and make better decisions," Rometty said.

As with previous technology revolutions, AI will destroy some jobs, create others and transform all jobs, she said.

She cautioned against AI "fearmongering" and said the Singularity is "decades and decades and decades" away.

Meanwhile, AI can do a lot to help human problems. For example, India is rolling out Watson for Healthcare in 120 hospitals. She cited statistics showing India has a gross shortage of oncologists to treat its population.

Education can improve economic inequality. IBM is working with schools in public-private partnership to allow students to get access to high-tech jobs in a six-year high school program. "We coined the phrase 'new collar jobs,'" Rometty said. "Not blue collar or white collar. Those are stereotypes. You don't have to have a PhD or university degree to have a job related to technology." (See IBM's Rometty Announces 25,000 'New Collar' US Jobs Ahead of Trump Meeting.)

Some 100,000 students are going through the program, with electronic mentors donated by 300 companies, and a chance at a job with twice the median salary on four continents, many of them with IBM, Rometty says.

"These problems are ultimately solvable. It is public and private working together," she said. "We can make a difference in every country we operate in, in 170 countries."

IBM also sees blockchain as transformative. "Blockchain will do for trusted transactions what the Internet did for information," she says. Blockchain enables transactions between people who "don't like or trust each other." (See IBM, Microsoft Rank in Blockchain Survey.)

IBM is testing blockchain for use with food safety, to reduce $100 billion worth of wasted food. For example, blockchain can help pinpoint foods needing recall for safety reasons. The test started with pork and mangoes, tracing supplies "from farm to fork," a task which used to require seven days and now can be done in seven seconds. Effective tracking of the food supply chain can reduce food safety issues. (See IBM, Partners Using Blockchain to Protect Food Supply.)

Quantum computing is another area of technology in which IBM is investing. This new, powerful form of computing has the potential to solve many problems -- but also create some: for example, by breaking known forms of encryption. IBM feels an obligation to look ahead to help mitigate those concerns, Rometty says. (See IBM's Quantum Computing Coming to the Cloud.)

And that's a good place to stop. Rometty had more to say, about why some people succeed, and diversity and IBM's commitment to workplace inclusiveness. We'll write that up in a day or two.

— Mitch Wagner Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn profile Visit my blog Follow me on Facebook Editor, Enterprise Cloud News

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th3j4ckl3 12/19/2017 | 2:30:32 AM
How many quarter revenue fails under her leadership? the stock has fallen from about $194 when CEO Ginni Rometty took control to the recent $160 -- a 17.5% decline over five years. And that is after spending $9 billion on payouts (mostly share buybacks) to prop up the stock!  22 quarterly growth failures.  And nobody including shareholders fails to ask why she is still holding her position?  Anyone else would have been asked to resign.  Blue chip stock no longer.

kq4ym 11/22/2017 | 4:05:50 PM
Re: A bold statement? Yes that is curious about why the government hasn't received anything from them. And it would be interesting to have some response to company revenues that " have declined 22 consecutive quarters." Wonder if that has any correlation to non-disclosures to the government. Not likely I'm sure, but who knows.
mhhfive 11/13/2017 | 7:08:51 PM
Re: A bold statement? IBM isn't losing money -- it's just not making as much as it used to. IBM is still profitable, so it's a bit easier to "switch out the engines" in mid-flight when you still have enough altitude. It's a lot harder when you're still on the runway or closer to it.
danielcawrey 11/13/2017 | 4:00:44 PM
Re: A bold statement? This is really good - keep the core values, embrace change. The problem is keeping everything flying when you are switching out the engines midflight. 
mhhfive 11/12/2017 | 1:23:04 PM
A bold statement? > "We're the only tech that has never given government access to data," she boasted."

Wow. I'm not sure exactly how impressed I should be by that. Does that essentially mean that the government has never asked? Or that IBM has refused government requests so effectively that no one has heard of their refusals? It may be a bit unwise to boast about this -- because it may take only one government request now from the current administration to make her regret this.

On the other hand, maybe IBM simply doesn't have the right customers for the government to be interested in? Apple only hands over data to the government because apparently its products are so popular that even terrorists and criminals use them. I'm sure there are plenty of unpopular tech companies that have never handed over data to government officials simply because their products/services were never the subject of an investigation.
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