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Australia takes stock of IBM Watson's future role in government

George Nott | Jan. 30, 2017
Federal agencies are potentially a perfect match for what Watson claims to offer

The NDIA hinted at its plan to use Watson in October 2015 after head of technology, Marie Johnson and Department of Human Services’ CTO, Charles McHardie travelled to the US to meet with IBM staff and gain access to advances in contextual and human machine interfaces and cognitive computing.

The NDIA intends to incorporate cognitive computing functions into a ‘fit for purpose’ platform that will support Australians with complex physical and intellectual disabilities under the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The source said a group of people with disabilities has been working with the agency to help guide the design of the platform which will be trialled in the coming months.

"There's also been wider involvement and consultation (with the community)...around what people with disabilities want and how can Watson support what they want," the source said.

Delivered an improvement

In May it was revealed the Department of Defence had carried out trials of Watson around psychological operations.

Mohan Aiyaswami, the Australian Defence Force's chief technology officer, said at the time the platform had been used for a proof of concept project involving ‘Target Audience Analysis’ (TAA), which involves analysing intelligence and selecting target audiences that may be effective in realising the goals of a psyop mission.

The project utilising Watson delivered an improvement on the timeframe of analysis compared to traditional TAA development methodology.

In May last year, Defence said it was looking to use Watson for several high-impact, classified initiatives.

Strategic imperative

The importance of Watson to IBM’s future cannot be overstated. With its traditional hardware business in decline, IBM is pinning its hopes on “strategic imperatives” like Watson, cloud and analytics. Success in the government vertical is vital.

“In 2016, our strategic imperatives grew to represent more than 40 per cent of our total revenue and we have established ourselves as the industry’s leading cognitive solutions and cloud platform company," Rometty said in a full year earnings announcement last week.

Rometty says Watson is “the world’s leading AI platform for business”. But heavyweights like Microsoft, AWS and Google are making similar claims.

Other AI platforms are being piloted within Australian government. The Department of Human Services is using Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite to infuse bots with deeper human context and conversational understanding to help agents be more effective. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission are undertaking a pilot of a “cognitive learning tool” with an unnamed regtech firm to reveal unlicensed or misleading conduct in relation to self-managed superannuation fund activities.

With IBM's reputation knocked by the Census debacle, and early-adopter trials coming to a close, Watson's ongoing role within government remains to be seen.


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