IBM Watson Lost The AI Race Despite Being First

IBM’s Watson built the greatest minds in Jeopardy back in 2015. No one really cared. Did it move IBM’s share price at all? Not really. Did unleash a wave of new tools? Not really.

Now, in 2023, in a matter of months and despite being about 8 years behind Watson but delivering similar tools I.e. ask question and get a response in record fast time, a list of companies have leap frogged IBM in the AI race.

Is IBM even mentioned in the world of AI? Did Watson die that fast? I never hear anyone mention in the same way they might mention ChatGPT, Bard, MidJourney, and NVIDIA.

I’ve done some thinking about this and have a few takeaways that I think are important. I’ve listed them out below as short pithy lessons:

1. Being first does not matter.

2. Large marketing spends do not matter.

3. In some respects, being second or third is more advantageous as you can learn from the mistakes of others.

4. People often say the youngest child has it best. But why? Because the youngest child watches what its older siblings did wrong and learns to not do it. In a similar way, this applies to business.

5. Products built for businesses will never go viral. Watson at the end of the day was a business product for analytics and analysis. Why would average consumers ever care?

6. ChatGPT was built for people, anyone, globally, and that alone unleashed its viral nature.

7. Watson never had a great website or app that was easy to use. You knew Watson won Jeopardy, but no one ever understood how to use it or where to get access.

8. Management teams rarely think in terms of 10 years. Especially public companies. They are swayed by markets, mania, and FOMO. No wonder why they slowed down on Watson. Without results in 3 years, without Wall Street caring, they quit.

9. This is not a post to say IBM and Watson are finished, the opposite, and just because you were first, failed, and are now behind does not mean you should stop. Now is the perfect time to reignite the flame that they invested in.

10. Marketing does not solve all problems. Product does not solve all problems. A combination of the two does. ChatGPT did this perfectly.

I look forward to watching what IBM’s team does with Watson.

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