Pepper © Yvonne Scheller

Up-close look at artificial intelligence - meet Pepper and Watson

Robots may soon welcome hotel guests or banks' customers - Hamburg News spoke to the head of IBM Watson Group in Hamburg

Hamburg News spoke to Dr. Wolfgang Hildesheim, Head of IBM Watson Group Germany, Austria and Switzerland about his work with the Watson team in Hamburg. Artificial intelligence is difficult to grasp and IBM recently presented the friendly humanoid robots Pepper and NAO at CeBIT. Thanks to the cognitive system, Watson answered visitors’ queries e.g. such as explaining a share and other money matters. Watson is likely to be deployed more in the financial sector among others.

Five basic fields of application

“We have carried out up to 100 projects over the last two to three years. Five basic application cases have emerged across all industries,” said Hildesheim. Watson could be deployed as an intelligent, virtual agent in e-banking, e-ticketing and e-procurement or as a call centre assistant and supply his human colleagues with background information swiftly. In terms of managing input, Watson has learnt to categorize letters and emails as orders, complaints or cancellations “even if the text is ironic”, Hildesheim stressed. This relieves staff in a company’s post department. Watson can also analyse trends based on information from social media, periodicals or newspaper articles. “Watson recognises the origin of a new trend very early.“ The fifth case brings us to Pepper….such robots may soon welcome hotel guests or banks’ clients and give them information about hotels and local tourist attractions.

Watson as a lifesaver

“Watson already plays a strong role in these areas,” said Hildesheim. Yet artificial intelligence makes far more possible. The cognitive system can be used to diagnose cancer and make sound suggestions for treatment. Watson can also help save lives. The U.S. journalist and author, Jay Tuck, recently warned during Social Media Week in Hamburg: “Artificial intelligence will kill us.“ Hildesheim does not share this gloomy view and pointed out: “Cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson have been developed to help people cope with their daily tasks and not to replace people. We are heading for a cognitive era. That is a real revolution. We had the industrial age, then the digital and now the cognitive. Watson is a cognitive platform, which can be used across the entire commercial span. New kinds of jobs will emerge and companies can become even more competitive.”

More time for creative and intelligent tasks

Although artificial intelligence is still in the early stages, it has the potential to noticeably improve people’s coexistence in every area. “Powerful innovations have yet to come,“ Hildesheim believes. However, there is no fear of Watson becoming a reporter for Hamburg News. Artificial intelligence does not take over and instead offers a valuable enhancement that supports the entire working world. “Watson can analyse texts, images, and audio sources swiftly and make them available to people who gain more time for creative and intelligent tasks.“ Watson also creates jobs: “Computer linguists or specialists in preparing and processing big data may be new roles,” said Hildesheim. Watson can only learn when given large amounts of data and after extensive training for a special sector. “We are a long way from independent, intelligent machines. The fact remains that machines cannot write clever articles or romantic love stories.“


Watson beat human competitors during the hit U.S. quiz show Jeopardy in 2011. His success has triggered a broader understanding of artificial intelligence. Cognitive systems like Watson can be used in manifold ways and help people in nearly every sector – in the health sector i.e to diagnose cancer or in industrial maintenance, as an adviser on energy or how to fight cyber attacks. Such systems also manage complaints, give advice on assets, shopping or assist drivers – to mention just a few examples.
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