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CES 2019: IBM Wants to Make Weather Forecasting Much More Detailed

IBM has figured out a way to improve the way we predict the weather.

The company’s ability to provide better forecasts worldwide will be highlighted by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty when she delivers the keynote address at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday. The Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System, or GRAF, will use IBM supercomputers to aggregate data from millions of sources, including the smartphones of Weather Channel app users (on an opt-in basis), to more-accurately predict the weather. GRAF will be rolled out later this year.

The company, which owns The Weather Channel, has its own interests in improving forecasting, but Rometty reminded USA Today that IBM is also involved in more day-to-day transactions than consumers typically realize: “Your ATM doesn’t work without us, you can’t get an airline ticket without us, you cannot charge your car through your gas without us, you (won’t have a) supply at Walmart without us. We really are underneath almost all of it.”

The new tool will have implications for businesses and consumers alike, especially in regions where accurate, reliable, and up-to-date weather forecasts are not available. According to Rometty, adverse weather saw the loss of $500 billion in economic value last year.

The decision to double down on collecting data from consumers’ phones is a bold one for IBM, whose subsidiary The Weather Channel was sued on Friday by the city of Los Angeles for allegedly collecting and selling users’ data under false pretences. The lawsuit claims the app asks permission to collect data, but informs the user that it’s needed to provide “personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts,” without mentioning other uses of the data. (The Weather Channel says it plans to defend its “transparent” use of location data and “appropriate” disclosures.)

Rommety is also expected to highlight IBM’s forays into a cloud-based platform where users can debate an AI, as well as the company’s efforts to be more inclusive.

The headline of this story has been updated to accurately reflect the capabilities of IBM’s new weather system.