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Bridget van Kralingen, SVP, Global Business Services, IBM Interviewer: Jessi Hempel, Fortune  Photograph by Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH

IBM exec: Watson has plenty of IQ, not enough EQ

Jul 15, 2014

Michal Lev-Ram has been a senior writer at Fortune since 2011, writing frequently about technology.

Watson has plenty of smarts, but not enough emotional intelligence, says IBM SVP Bridget van Kralingen. The head of the company's consulting and services business (and former psychologist) spoke at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen today.

Since Watson made its debut on Jeopardy in 2011, the so-called cognitive system has learned slang and transformed into a fledgling analytics tool for doctors, insurance companies and retailers. Recently, the company has also made efforts to open up the super-smart computer and turn it into a platform for third-party developers, paving the way for what IBM (ibm) hopes will be thousands of applications for all sorts of industries. That includes providing some developer tools and giving partners access to "subject matter experts" within IBM. The company also recently announced it would invest more than $1 billion into a newly-formed Watson Group, and launch a $100 million fund for investing in the Watson "ecosystem."

"The thought is that we could have a whole cognitive network of capabilities in the world around us," van Kralingen said.

IBM has made a big bet on Watson and the applications it could someday enable, but it's still early days for the technology. One hurdle--IBM wants Watson to interact with humans and companies in unprecedented ways, which, according to van Kralingen, requires the machine to learn emotional intelligence in addition to ingesting information.

"Watson has IQ, but very little EQ," said van Kralingen.

To that end, IBM recently acquired a company called Cognea, which has developed a "conversational" artificial intelligence platform. According to van Kralingen, Watson is already helping some individuals to not only pick insurance plans but also advise on where to live and what kind of education path they should pursue. But the IBM exec also admits those capabilities are still rudimentary. Someday, though, Watson could interact and engage with humans in a more human-like (albeit smarter) ways. For example, it would shift its "personality" and language according to a person's style. And instead of just spewing out information and statistics in response to doctors' queries, it would actually pose its own questions to physicians.

"It's changing from information seeking to real dialogue," said van Kralingen.

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