IBM’s Watson Turning to Social Media to Predict Pretty Much Everything

IBM has turned Watson’s attention to social media. Apparently the company is exploring ways for its super-intelligent computer to monitor what you’re doing at all times (if you want it to), and thus predict anything and everything you may or may not be doing, decide to do, watch your friends do, etc.

Screen shot 2014-02-03 at 3.47.26 PMAfter attending NRF’s Big Show last month, I’m not at all surprised by this news. In fact, after standing in the behemoth’s mammoth booth and watching Watson in action, I was both scared and fascinated at the prospect of technology’s future and where IBM is taking it.

Last week, IBM announced a new consulting practice called IBM Interactive Experience dedicated to better fusing business strategy, data and design. As part of the announcement, IBM revealed that the company had been working on perfecting a couple of tools that are offshoots of the same computer research into natural language that led to Watson.

The tools are based on the idea that a computer using linguistic analysis can read customers’ social media profiles to better understand who they actually are, then use that data to figure out a better way to approach them, and predict the services or products they’ll need.

As an article in Co.Design said, let’s say that you Tweet you’ve gotten a job offer to move to San Francisco. Using IBM’s linguistic analysis technologies, your bank could analyze your Twitter feed and not tailor services it could offer you ahead of the move (like helping you move your account to another branch, or offering you a loan for a new house) in addition to judging your psychological profile based upon the tone of your messages about the move, giving advice to your bank’s representatives about the best way to contact you. Also, the companies using these technologies wouldn’t necessarily have to know your Twitter handle as IBM means for its technology to scan publicly available social media streams like Twittery, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more, then use linguistic analysis to try to infer which social accounts belong to whom.

Furthermore, once a company knows a social media account is yours, IBM’s tools could allow them to know when you’re thinking of going on vacation, making a big purchase…the list goes on. The tools can even predict major life-events: if you changed your Facebook status to “Married” a year ago, for example, a company might infer that it was about time to start approaching you about products and services for your first child.

Oh boy…that would not go over well with yours truly.

And that’s a question: What if you are one of the many people who might not subscribe to conventional patterns or behavior? What if you are someone who might actually take offense to such a suggestion? Well, of course you don’t have to sign up for this – your social privacy settings can always be adjusted so that companies do not have access to this information, despite utilizing IBM’s tools. And likely, if you’re an active social user who’s updating all your feeds multiple times a day, you won’t mind if a company does a better job at predicting what you want, right?

What do you think the benefits and hurdles could be for retailers in using tools like this? If available and within budget, would you employ such tools? Discuss!