Jay Migliaccio, IBM Watson: On leveraging AI to improve productivity

IBM has been refining its AI solutions for decades and knows a thing or two about helping businesses leverage the technology to improve productivity.

In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer was used to beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov. At the time, all too familiar headlines suggested that computers would soon replace humans. Over two decades later, AI has proven to be an assistive tool that benefits us every day.

IBM Watson’s first commercial application was announced a little over a decade ago in February 2013 for utilisation management decisions in lung cancer treatment. In the years since, we’ve seen it used to deliver game-changing advancements in healthcare, weather forecasting, education, science, and much more.

AI News caught up with Jay Migliaccio, Senior Product Manager for Watson Orchestrate, to learn how IBM is now using its vast experience to help businesses with their digital transformations.

AI News: So, Jay, can you tell me how IBM is helping businesses to improve the productivity of their workforces?

Jay Migliaccio: Yes, Ryan. Thanks so much for the invite and for asking me here.

IBM is expanding its suite of offerings in the area of digital labour. Digital labour leverages AI and automation to help workers become more productive. And, much like human labour, digital labour performs work on business systems through “skills”.

Digital labour skills enable digital labour to interact with business applications, much like you and I would interact with a system of record or system of engagement. We can do this now through digital labour. And, what’s new and unique, is that digital labour leverages the human-centric interaction style.

So, we’ve introduced natural language and we’ve also introduced intelligent orchestration to be able to execute not just single skills, but actually multiple skills to be able to achieve higher-level tasks.

AN: Generative AI is a hot topic in the market at the moment. Do you see that being used practically in the workplace and what risks should businesses be aware of?

JM: Yeah, great question. I actually do use it myself in the workplace, I occasionally have to develop software tools and simple scripts and I have had it generate a number of scripts for me successfully. So I’m impressed not just with its ability to generate verbal and written content, but also code content. I for sure believe it will become increasingly useful in the workplace.

Current generative AI platforms have been trained on the internet, so remember your results may vary. I know anytime I Google or search for things on the internet I take the results with a grain of salt.

I believe that enterprises, as they go to look and adopt generative AI systems, they’ll lean more towards AI that they can trust. Therefore, we need to work on being able to create that trust element in generative AI solutions.

AN: What is the value of Watson Orchestrate for developers?

JM: When we talk about developers, I’m talking about automation developers. And that’s by and large developers that are integrating apps and business apps and business systems to work together.

For the most part, those developers have been integrating business systems to business systems. Now what we can do with Watson Orchestrate is we can introduce the human into the loop.

These automation developers now have a platform where they can build and integrate their automation workflows and they can bring a human experience into these automation workflows for everyday human workers.

Watson Orchestrate provides a platform for creating human-centric workflow automation, designed to interact with humans in our native communication style which is spoken or written word.

AN: How does Watson Orchestrate learn from user interactions?

JM: There are a couple of ways Watson Orchestrate is monitoring the behaviour of humans and learning from them. 

Perhaps most important is its ability to interpret the natural language through which humans are communicating. Today it’s the written word, but in the future spoken word. Watson Orchestrate can not just do a pattern match based on existing known sentences, but it can actually understand the intent of those utterances. 

Additionally, it can extract entities from those utterances. So, when you use proper nouns in a sentence, it can understand that’s an entity that it would use as part of an automation. It can match the intent of the utterance to existing skills that it has and can react accordingly. It can understand the intent of the utterance and then take action on those skills. Increasingly, it can sequence multiple skills together.

Also, we are working on systems for empowering Watson Orchestrate to monitor the user’s behaviour. And, just like any modern SaaS application today that has recommendations based on your behaviour, we’re working on recommendation engines to recommend to employees how they can use Watson Orchestrate to be more productive in the future.

AN: Talking about AI more generally, what new ways of working are today’s advancements enabling?

JM: As I just alluded to, we’re increasingly empowering systems to understand human natural language to a much more complex and sophisticated extent. Natural language interpretation has grown way beyond the basic pre-programmed bot experience.

I’m sure everybody has had an experience on a website where there’s a bot responding to your basic questions. What we’re trying to do is make that bot much more intelligent. The current generation of digital labour can understand your intent, extract entities from your utterances, and, most importantly, take action on your behalf.

AN: On the flip side, what are some of the main dangers of automation tools and how do we overcome those?

JM: I’m not sure if this is a specific category of danger, but I suppose I would put it under the law of unintended consequences. Anytime you work with technology, there can be outcomes that you don’t expect.

For example, if we think about the automobile as an automation tool for moving humans around – the intent, of course, was to move a human from A to B faster, and maybe more reliably. But the net result is occasionally we have accidents.

Much like the way we build transportation systems to constrain and reduce the potential for accidents, we have to do the same thing in our business systems with digital labour. Certainly, we’re going to want to start small and just do very selective, very specific tasks that are well-curated and well-defined.

We’ll need to create guardrails that guard against unintended and unexpected behaviour. One of the ways we’re doing this in Watson Orchestrate is to empower the digital labour to act on the user’s behalf and therefore leverage the user’s credentials when interacting with business systems.

As an employee, I’m given certain access to a business system based on my role. Therefore, we know when the digital employee performs actions on my behalf it also has those existing restrictions and permissions for those business systems.

Another option is monitoring behaviour and monitoring for unintended consequences. And, lastly, integrating governance and creating policies that permit or restrict the behaviour of digital employees.

AN: Are you a believer in the metaverse? If so, how much work do you think we will be doing in it?

JM: Yeah, great question. Metaverse for me is a very loose term. Here we are digitally speaking – we’ve never met before, you could be an avatar for all I know. So, in that sense, I’m a believer in the metaverse.

For me, like most innovative technologies, it will start on the fringe and work its way into the mainstream. You can look at entertainment and gaming and see very metaverse-like experiences being used there.

I’ve seen examples of the metaverse being used for deep meditative experiences. If you want to go into deep meditation, you can put on your virtual headsets and enter a metaverse world that is very different from the physical world we live in.

And I also can see the metaverse being initially used for education purposes. I think it’s a great way – a sort of low-risk way – to introduce people to new environments and new ideas at scale.

I don’t think we’re gonna go to the metaverse to go to work. I don’t see that as something coming in the near term.

AN: I can only promise I’m not an avatar for the time being. I might bump into you at Digital Transformation Week, next week. You’ll obviously be in attendance, what will you be sharing with the audience at the event?

JM: Yeah, Digital Transformation Week I will be talking about our view on the digital labour market and some of our solutions. I will also be sharing some of the stories about the early adopters of IBM’s digital labour solutions.

You can watch our full interview with Jay below:

IBM is a headline sponsor of Digital Transformation Week on 17-18 May 2023 and will be sharing its expertise with attendees. Swing by IBM’s booth at stand #236 and check out Jay Migliaccio’s keynote at 10:30am on day one.

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