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Data Sheet—IBM CEO Ginni Rometty Says Company ‘Never Overpromised’ on Watson A.I.

February 14, 2019, 3:13 PM UTC

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Ginni Rometty, chief executive of IBM, met Wednesday morning with a small gaggle of journalists. She’s in town for IBM’s annual THINK conference, a giant collection of partners, customers, and various hangers-on.

Like many topics having to do with “enterprise” technology—goods and services for businesses as opposed to doo-dads for consumers—it’s not particularly scintillating stuff. But it’s a very big business, which IBM thinks will be an even bigger business. That’s why it is spending more than $30 billion for Red Hat, a company IBM believes will complete its overall cloud offering.

Better even than most mega-cap CEOs, Rometty adroitly thrusts and parries on multiple topics. Here are a few things she discussed in a spirited 45-minute, first-thing-in-the-morning chat:

* Rometty cleverly frames the “cloud” as about 20% exploited, and she argues that software programs that have been ported to the cloud have been the easy stuff, like customer-service software and other applications, like Microsoft’s Office products. “These are additive to what clients do already,” she says. The other 80%? That’s the sort of “mission critical” stuff IBM long has been good at and why the company, which has struggled to grow, will prosper. That’s good positioning.

* Artificial intelligence also is in its early days. Again with the bon mot, Rometty says so far clients report having committed only “random acts of digital and AI.” In other words, they’ve stood up a digital program here and sprinkled some AI pixie dust there. Guess who’ll supply the real stuff? If you said IBM, you’re not so bad at this game.

* Pretty much the entire world believes IBM overhyped its Watson artificial intelligence technology. Rometty isn’t one of those people. “We never overpromised,” she says, allowing, though, that “the world was mesmerized by this idea” and that the whole tech industry has learned that “you cannot just put AI on top of existing workflows.” Rometty somewhat shockingly re-framed how people should think about Watson, the subject of years of IBM’s marketing efforts. “People ask, ‘What’s the size of the Watson business?’” she says. “People want to call it a business. I call it a capability.”

She had a lot more to say about tech regulation (she’s mostly for it), about education (she’s definitely for it), and about the rain in San Francisco (not a fan). I’ll come back to these other topics—but not the rain—another time.

Adam Lashinsky


Council of elders. Speaking of Ginni Rometty, she is joining the business advisory board for the U.S. Commerce Department's National Council For the American Worker, which was established via executive order by President Donald Trump last July. Other members of the panel include Apple CEO Tim Cook as well the CEOs of Walmart, Lockheed Martin, and Home Depot.

Coin of the realm. JPMorgan Chase is the first major U.S. bank to create its own cryptocurrency. Meet JPM Coin, a dollar-pegged cryptocurrency, or "stablecoin," intended to help big clients—like corporations, banks, and broker-dealers—settle up international payments, securities transactions, and treasury services. Say, doesn't it seem like just yesterday that CEO Jamie Dimon was bashing Bitcoin?

Et tu, Brother? It's looking likelier and likelier that Michael Sanchez, brother of Jeff Bezos' mistress Lauren Sanchez, was the one who leaked details of the frisky pair's relationship to the National Enquirer. CNN is the latest news outlet to report having confirmed the leakers' identity, a declaration that corroborates similar findings by both the Daily Beast and the Associated Press.

Cisco: "What trade war?" The networking giant beat Wall Street's forecasts when it reported earnings on Wed., pleasing investors, even as a fledgling Sino-American trade war forced the company to raise prices on its equipment. Profits for Cisco's second fiscal quarter came to $2.82 billion, a cent per share higher than expected. Revenues rose 4.7% to $12.45 billion, $40 million more than expected.

Practice what you preach. Gene Daniel Levoff, a former top lawyer at Apple, has been charged with insider trading by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors. He was, ironically, in charge of the company's insider trading policy before his firing in September.

Best of the best. Fortune has released this year's 100 Best Companies to Work For list. The highest-ranked tech company? Salesforce at No. 2. (Hilton is No. 1.) We've also highlighted some of the more interesting do-good initiatives tech company-listers provide their workforces, among them: How NVIDIA combats the student loan crisis; how Cisco encourages internal innovation; and how Workday uses data to further diversity.


The feminine mystique. Computer programming used to be a women's world. But as the decades passed, things changed. As Clive Thompson writes for the New York Times Magazine, you can actually pinpoint the moment roles reversed. The rise of the personal computer through the '70s and '80s coupled with entrenched gender norms in the household—where boys were steered toward construction sets and, eventually, computer instruction manuals, while girls were given dolls—forced a schism. These factors contributed to men, who generally had more coding experience by the time they arrived at college, coming to dominate the field.

If we want to pinpoint a moment when women began to be forced out of programming, we can look at one year: 1984. A decade earlier, a study revealed that the numbers of men and women who expressed an interest in coding as a career were equal. Men were more likely to enroll in computer-science programs, but women’s participation rose steadily and rapidly through the late ’70s until, by the 1983-84 academic year, 37.1 percent of all students graduating with degrees in computer and information sciences were women. In only one decade, their participation rate more than doubled.

But then things went into reverse. From 1984 onward, the percentage dropped; by the time 2010 rolled around, it had been cut in half. Only 17.6 percent of the students graduating from computer-science and information-science programs were women.


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Goodnight, sweet prince. After 15 years traversing the Red Planet, the Mars rover Opportunity has officially concluded its mission. A June sandstorm did in the wheeled probe, coating its solar panels in a suffocating dust. NASA has given up trying to revive the machine. Take solace: The rover far exceeded its intended lifespan of three months.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.