IBM, Walmart and Tsinghua University this morning are announcing a new program that will use blockchain technology to track food that is transported and sold to consumers across China. Food safety is a big issue in China these days, and the program will allow digital tracking of food from suppliers to store shelves and ultimately to consumers, making it much easier to quickly find and address contamination. You can read more about the program here.
The blockchain tracking collaboration is just one of a number of innovative programs that IBM Chief Ginni Rometty talked with me about yesterday while visiting Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in California. The IBM chief has been a regular at this annual gathering, providing updates on her effort to transform Big Blue from a server-based business to a cloud, data and analytics company – a “cognitive” company, as she calls it. It’s been a tough transition, with revenues falling for eighteen straight quarters. But the latest results, reported Monday, show the strategy is starting to yield results. (You can read what analysts have to say about Monday’s earnings report here.)
Among the most exciting new projects she discussed is a recently announced program with Quest Diagnostics that will provide cancer doctors and patients across the country with access to Watson’s vast genomics databases, to improve cancer diagnoses and help patients get the benefit of the latest developments in the rapidly evolving field of cancer research. You can read more about that program here.
Rometty told the MPW crowd that calling such programs “artificial intelligence” is a misnomer, since they enhance, rather than replace, human decision making. But she acknowledged that rapid advances in cognitive computing skills likely will eliminate many existing jobs. And she echoed the call, heard in this column from other CEOs, for business leaders to do more to provide education and training in math and science to support this transition.
“If you step back and look at technology from every era, it has displaced jobs but also created a lot of jobs,” Rometty said. “One day we are going to look back, and whatever this era is called, it is going to put a premium on math and science.” You can read and watch Rometty’s comments yesterday here.
Also this morning, Fortune is publishing a fascinating new account of how Steve Jobs made his first billion. It wasn’t at Apple; it was at Pixar, and this excerpt from a new book by former Pixar CFO Lawrence Levy, which appears in the November issue of our magazine, offers a revealing new look at Jobs’ controversial role in the saga.
More news below.