Mark Davison at IBM Think, Las Vegas – Digital assistants may have become part of the furniture in modern homes, performing many routine tasks. But today IBM says it has taken this technology to a new level with the launch of its Watson Assistant.

Kareem Yusuf, GM, Watson IoT at IBM, says traditional digital assistants have laid the groundwork for the next generation – truly intelligent AI assistants that get to know you as an individual. Watson Assistant, he adds, is a smart enterprise assistant that brings together artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) to help businesses enhance brand loyalty and transform customer experiences, while keeping the business and customer data private and secure.

“Right now, leading brands are joining us to bring Watson Assistant into our daily lives,” Yusuf says. “This includes Harman, which at Think 2018 is demonstrating Watson Assistant in its digital cockpit solution featured in a Maserati GranCabrio. Harman is joined by Airwire, Munich Airport, Kaon Media, The Royal Bank of Scotland and our newest partner, IFTTT, all of which are turning to Watson Assistant to better engage their customers.

“These partners recognise that Watson Assistant can be embedded in any ‘thing’ – a car, hotel room, retail store, conference room and more – offering consumers new levels of convenience as they live, work and travel,” he continues. “It combines a deep understanding of the user with additional contextual factors such as their location and time of day to anticipate their needs and proactively make recommendations.”

Yusuf says the contextual element is important. “Watson Assistant isn’t just designed for a single location such as your home,” he says. “And, it doesn’t just respond to a person’s commands and provide generic information that’s publicly available. It can be accessed via voice or text interaction and gets to know a person more through each and every interaction, gaining greater insight into who they are, what makes them happy and more.”

Delivered through the IBM Cloud, Watson Assistant can be infused into a new set of industry-specific applications, including two designed for automotive and hospitality, which businesses can white-label and brand as they chose. Automotive manufacturers can now offer the smart assistant experience in their vehicles, and hotels can offer guests a smart assistant experience in their rooms.

“But Watson Assistant isn’t just for auto and hospitality,” explains Yusuf. “Watson Assistant for additional industries allows companies in retail, banking and more to create several types of conversational capabilities (skills) that are important and relevant for their business or industry.

“Data sharing between skills and built-in data objects, such as context (information about the business and industry) and profile (data on the consumer/customer), as well as built-in proactive capabilities, enables natural and life-like conversations that are in-context while protecting data through secure and personalised insights, which the business owns. These skills can be built upon and use any Watson Service—primarily Watson Conversation Service, Speech to Text and Text to Speech—to create a much more comprehensive conversation.

“Watson Assistant can also be customised for additional verticals, and with permission from the user, these businesses can share this data through the IBM Cloud to ensure that it’s present throughout each person’s day, no matter where they go.”

Yusuf uses the current situation of delegates to IBM Think as an example.

“You’re on a business trip to Las Vegas,” he says. “Upon landing at McCarran International Airport, Watson Assistant automatically checks into your hotel and your preferred rental car is not only ready, it has the hotel destination preprogrammed along with suggestions on where to get a latte while enroute. Nearing the hotel, the Watson Assistant in your car signals your arrival to the hotel and not only updates the room with your preferences for music, temperature and lighting, it synchs your smartphone, calendar and email with the in-room wall dashboard and checks you into the convention you’re attending.

“Next, after skipping the long lines of the front desk, you use an electronic key on your phone to enter, ask Watson Assistant to check your messages and within minutes, you’re ready to begin the afternoon meetings.

“This is Watson Assistant,” Yusuf says. “The future of smart AI assistants.”