Watson v. Watson

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As Wikipedia explains,

Watson is an artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language,[2] developed in IBM's DeepQA project by a research team led by principal investigator David Ferrucci. Watson was named after IBM's first president, Thomas J. Watson.

But as a page at AT&T Labs Research tells us,

AT&T WATSONSM is AT&T's speech and language engine that integrates a variety of speech technologies, including network-based, speaker-independent automatic speech recognition (ASR), AT&T Labs Natural Voices® text-to-speech conversion, natural language understanding (which includes machine learning), and dialog management tasks.

WATSON has been used within AT&T for IVR customers, including AT&T's VoiceTone® service, for over 20 years during which time the algorithms, tools, and plug-in architecture have been refined to increase accuracy, convenience, and integration. Besides customer care IVR, AT&T WATSONSM has been used for speech analytics, mobile voice search of multimedia data, video search, voice remote, voice mail to text, web search, and SMS.

AT&T's WATSON is in the news because the company announced plans to release its APIs to developers (Richard Adhikari, "AT&T's Watson APIs Let Apps Recognize Speech", TechNewsWorld 4/20/12).

The company's claim on the "Watson" name derives from Alexander Graham Bell's assistant, Thomas A. Watson, and the anecdote about the first successful communication by telephone, documented in Bell's notebook entry of March 10, 1876:

Alexander Graham Bell's notebook entry of March 10, 1876, describes the first successful experiment with the telephone, during which he spoke through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room. Bell writes, "I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: 'Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.' To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said."

I haven't been able to determine, in a few minutes of internet search, whether Thomas A. Watson was related in any way to Thomas J. Watson; but any relationship must have been a fairly distant one.


  1. turang said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 9:12 am

    >I haven't been able to determine, in a few minutes of internet search, >whether Thomas A. Watson was related in any way to Thomas J. Watson; >but any relationship must have been a fairly distant one.

    And both perhaps unrelated to the other famous "assistant" who used to live on Baker Street?

  2. Stephen C. Carlson said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    IBM's Watson and AT&T's Watson are different things, right?

  3. Joshua said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    The first Holmes story was published ten years after Graham Bell's experiment, so it's actually quite plausible (though I don't know that it's the case) that Holmes' Watson was named after Bell's.

  4. Jon Weinberg said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    Each company has filed for U.S. trademarks — IBM for "IBM Watson" and AT&T for "AT&T Watson". The requested trademarks haven't issued. IBM's applications have been kicked back by the examiner, and AT&T's application was opposed by IBM in a proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board; the two companies are in settlement negotiations.

  5. Rod Johnson said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

    Watson v. Watson v. Watson (RIP).

  6. Martin J Ball said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

    I wonder what's on?

  7. Plane said,

    April 21, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    Doesn't use of v. rather than vs. imply that you're talking about a legal case?

  8. SeaDrive said,

    April 24, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    The character of Sherlock Holmes is thought by some to be based on a Dr. Joseph Bell, so there could be some sort of Bell/Watson to Holmes/Watson jump. I never got the idea that Doyle was into that kind of game play, though.

  9. Not My Leg said,

    April 27, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

    I am confused about the point here. Is it that IBM Watson and AT&T Watson are each named for different Watsons? Also, although I understand the obvious connection between AT&T Watson and Thomas A. Watson, is there any indication that it is named for him? I didn't see anything in the linked text.

  10. So Virtual Agents CAN Provide True Customer Service?! | Virtual Agent Chat said,

    September 27, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

    […] and language engine. That's right; it's AT&T WATSON, not IBM Watson. Heh? Well, apparently AT&T named its speech processing technology WATSON a really long time ago and they've […]

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