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IBM wants Watson to orchestrate your next boardroom takeover

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Imagine suddenly having the computer from Star Trek right there with you during your next your board meeting. By virtue of its supercharged processing capabilities, it knows everything there is to know about your company, and can brief you instantly on any aspect. In time, it becomes your favourite co-worker. This is the kind of future that IBM is proposing with a new project that could one day allow Watson, the company's artificially intelligent computer system, to contribute to business meetings.

According to MIT Technology Review, IBM is testing a wall-sized prototype in the Thomas J. Watson research center in New York. Thanks to the system's ceiling-mounted microphones, the computer can listen for its name (make sure your CEO isn't called "Watson") and execute commands, all while transcribing the entire meeting.

But the version of Watson that IBM wants to integrate in your next board meeting is way more than a stenographer, because it can actively participate in the discussion at hand. In a live demonstration, it helped researchers generate a list of companies to acquire, using only an internal memo summarizing a fake company's strategy, decision-making algorithms, and a voice command ("Watson, show me companies between $15 million and $60 million in revenue relevant to that strategy").

After some back and forth between the fake executives and the computer, Watson narrowed down its results, and rendered a verdict. "I recommend eliminating Kawasaki Robotics," it said. When prompted to explain, it told the researchers that Kawasaki Robotics "is inferior to Cognilytics in every way."

It could send fact-checking memos to executives to correct their statements

This isn't the first attempt at integrating a computer system in meetings that can understand attendees — a European Union back project has been trying to develop "meeting browsers" since 2004 — but Watson is probably the most powerful. And it may have a lot more in store, as IBM is also thinking about having Watson send fact-checking memos to executives after a meeting to correct their statements.

Dario Gil, director for symbiotic cognitive systems at IBM, told MIT that this is all part of how IBM plans to change the way bosses and employees interact. "Watson could enhance collective intelligence by facilitating turn taking," he said, or by providing "a neutral presence that can help prevent groupthink."