How Smart is the IBM Watson Artificial Intelligence?

January 13, 2024 • Zachary Amos


How smart is the IBM Watson artificial intelligence? Is it still operational? Many people are asking these questions as the AI industry booms. Algorithms like ChatGPT and DALL-E are amazing people all over the world. Watson was an early predecessor of these AI models, but it hasn’t made headlines in several years. Here’s a look at what exactly Watson is and how it’s AI capabilities compare to modern AI models. 

What is IBM Watson?

IBM Watson was a supercomputer project at leading technology company IBM. It was first announced in 2010 and made headlines in 2011 when it competed on the Jeopardy! game show. The IBM Watson artificial intelligence is what the project is best known for, although Watson was not itself an AI model. It was a supercomputer that ran AI algorithms. 

A supercomputer uses an array of many central processing units, or CPUs, to complete calculations. Normal computers only have one CPU, so the use of dozens or hundreds greatly expands the supercomputer’s processing power. The IBM Watson artificial intelligence applications used this immense processing power mainly for natural language processing, although Watson could do other tasks, as well. 

Unfortunately, over the past ten years, progress with Watson has declined. IBM attempted to apply the supercomputer’s capabilities in the healthcare industry, but it did not pan out. Afterward, many of the technologies behind Watson were acquired by other companies. IBM still has Watson applications available today, though. 

How Smart is the IBM Watson Artificial Intelligence?

The Watson supercomputer was mainly known for its AI capabilities. It pioneered many of the AI technologies that are booming in popularity today, such as natural language processing. Algorithms like ChatGPT might not have been possible without the groundbreaking work IBM did with Watson. 

In 2011, Watson was one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Its AI amazed audiences when it competed on Jeopardy! and even won. The accomplishment is reminiscent of the legendary chess match between IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer and chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1996. 

So, when Watson originally launched, it was a global leader in AI technology. Is that still true today, though? Not exactly. While Watson is still impressive, it is not as smart as newer AI models like ChatGPT, which has a larger, more modern set of training data. Watson is good at the tasks it can perform, but it is somewhat limited compared to the new generation of all-purpose AI models hitting the market over recent years. 

What Can IBM Watson Do?

Understanding the IBM Watson artificial intelligence is easier when looking at its capabilities and applications. The Watson supercomputer is incredibly powerful, even today. It was a trailblazer in AI with some exciting, groundbreaking capabilities. These applications show how intelligent and versatile Watson really is. 

Edit Movie Trailers

Besides appearing on Jeopardy!, Watson is best known for editing the first AI-generated movie trailer. The IBM Watson artificial intelligence model edited a trailer for the 2016 thriller Morgan, becoming the first AI to do so for a Hollywood film. 

IBM prepared the AI by using machine learning to teach it how movie trailers work and what they should look like. The developers at IBM also showed Watson 90 minutes of footage from Morgan so the AI could analyze it and select the best scenes for a trailer. Then a real video editor cut those scenes together to build the final video. 

This was a major breakthrough in the film industry. Movie trailers may be short, but a lot of work goes into them. They can take weeks to create, but with Watson’s help, editors only need 24 hours to complete the Morgan trailer. This was a precursor to today’s advancements in AI assistant technologies in the film and video game industries. 

Act As a Virtual Assistant

If there’s one thing the IBM Watson artificial intelligence is good at, it’s natural language processing. So, it’s no surprise that this AI makes a great virtual assistant. The Watson supercomputer is still in use for AI virtual assistant applications, including those in IBM’s new WatsonX program. 

Watson can act as a chatbot, much like ChatGPT, offering support and answering questions. It can also function as a coding assistant, helping developers do their jobs more efficiently. Watson can even help people streamline tasks like research and data analysis. 

Analyze Data

Data analytics were one of the very first applications for computers and artificial intelligence. Completing numerical computations doesn’t require any understanding of language or emotions, so it’s an easy and straightforward task for AI. The IBM Watson artificial intelligence is no exception. 

Watson is highly effective at rapidly analyzing data sets from a variety of sources, such as spreadsheets. It can run calculations or identify patterns in data, helping users speed up an otherwise slow and tedious process. 

Automate Tasks

Watson can also perform many robotic process automation tasks. This capability largely falls under the AI assistant umbrella, but users can also apply it on its own. Robotic process automation involves having an AI perform certain virtual tasks, such as repetitive data entry or schedule generation. 

Was the IBM Watson Artificial Intelligence a Success?

When considering how smart IBM Watson is or how it measures up to more modern AI, it’s easy to see it as outdated. Watson is often remembered for a failed healthcare application for it that eventually led IBM to sell off many Watson technologies. In spite of this, Watson was arguably still a success at its primary task: breaking new ground in the field of artificial intelligence. With Watson, we might not have incredible generative AI models like ChatGPT or DALL-E.