GSK Enlists IBM Watson AI to Dispense Cold and Cough Advice

By: Jeff Bertolucci| - Leave a comment

Cold season is rearing its ugly head again. Rather than scanning the internet for advice on sneezes and sore throats or calling the doctor and waiting forever on hold, why not ask Watson instead?

That’s the idea behind a new customer service effort by global pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), according to Computerworld. It has enlisted the IBM Watson AI system — an advanced cognitive platform capable of answering questions posed in natural language — to respond to cough and cold questions asked by text or voice through GSK’s online ads.

Chatbot Advice From IBM Watson AI

GSK’s Watson-powered ads are scheduled to be unveiled this week at the IBM World of Watson 2016 conference in Las Vegas and will start being dispensed next month. The GSK project fits with IBM’s long-term strategy for Watson, which is best known by the public for defeating two top “Jeopardy!” champions in 2011.

In fact, IBM is pitching Watson’s AI-based skills to a variety of industries, including healthcare, finance and education, according to Computerworld. In the GSK trial, a Watson-powered chatbot will initially interact with curious consumers via ads for the company’s Theraflu cold and flu medicine. If all goes well, GSK plans to expand the chatbox experience to ads for its Flonase nasal spray during next year’s allergy season.

Dr. Watson, I Presume

GSK hopes IBM Watson AI system will provide fast and accurate medical answers to common queries, such as, “What medicine is best for a stuffy nose?” For consumers, the interaction should prove more convenient than the usual Google search or phone call to the doctor. The interactive system is also designed to help with follow-up questions.

“It’s not going to diagnose you, but it can provide information about what store they need,” Jason Andree, senior brand manager of GSK North America’s Cough and Cold Division, told Computerworld. “It can provide a coupon for what they need, and it can direct them to pages in the website for more information.”

A Cognitive Future

Watson’s push into customer support is a logical progression for it and other cognitive computing platforms, whose machine learning, natural language and data mining skills provide a promising alternative to traditional call centers.

In an in-house effort, IBM’s technical support agents have been using a cognitive solution that reduces the time it takes agents to determine a plan of action for callers’ problems. By improving the accuracy of results, cognitive systems can shorten wait times and improve the customer experience. In addition, linguistic analysis tools such as Watson Tone Analyzer can detect human emotions such as anger, fear, joy and even disgust in text and voice responses, enabling businesses to address irate customers more effectively and hopefully preventing them from taking their business elsewhere.

A key component of IBM Watson AI is its ability to learn on the fly — a feature GSK hopes will help it interact better with its customers and make its pharmaceutical products stand out in a highly competitive global market.

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.