IBM Think 2018 at a glance

Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO, during her chairman’s address at the Mandalay Events Center in Las Vegas. Photo by Alex Coop.

More than 40,000 attended IBM Think 2018, an event that combined IBM’s other business and technology events from years prior into one. AI, cloud and blockchain are not new concepts, but this is the year many people at the event believe they’re going to go mainstream – blockchain especially – and IBM wants to be involved not just at the enterprise level, but at the commercial level as well. There were hundreds of vendors and dozens of speakers. We’ve compiled a few major highlights from the event here. Also, make sure to read our story about Canadian companies leaving their mark at the various keynotes here, and IBM’s announcement about Watson and Apple Core ML joining forces, here. Stay tuned for more stories from Think 2018.

Marie Wieck, GM of blockchain for IBM, announces the beta launch of the IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan. The program already has 150 clients onboard. Photo by Alex Coop.

Blockchain Starter Services
IBM announced three new consulting service offerings to support the adoption of blockchain, as well as the beta launch of the IBM Blockchain Platform Starter Plan, a pay-as-you go platform that will give startups and developers a way to quickly build their own blockchain networks. According to Juniper Research, more than half of the world’s big corporations are either actively considering, or are in the process of deploying blockchain technology. The service is similar to the IBM Blockchain Platform enterprise plan, but is intended to be a low-cost entry solution better suited for pilot projects and startups. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty emphasized blockchain’s potential during her keynote Tuesday morning.

Every year, IBM Research’s global labs reveals five technologies that they expect will fundamentally change business and society in the next five years. At Think’s opening presentation Monday, one of the “5 in 5” technologies showed off were crypto-anchors, tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt. They contain thousands of transistors and will work in tandem with blockchain technology to monitor, communicate, analyze and even act on data. Arvind Krishna, head of IBM Research, said they are a perfect fit for food safety, the authentication of manufactured components and genetically modified products. They will also play a huge role in the identification of counterfeit objects. Krisha pointed to the fact that the total value of counterfeit goods is approximately $1.8 trillion dollars. In this video, Andreas Kind, manager of industry platforms and blockchain for IBM, explains exactly how crypto-anchors work.

Formula 1 racing
To some people this might be a surprise – Formula 1 racing is a data-driven sport. Races are often won by the smallest margins, so drivers and their teams look to push every inch of their car to the next level to optimize performance. Red Bull Racing partners with IBM Spectrum Solutions to collect data and plan for the next race. This car, located on the show floor, was accompanied by two track simulators so people could experience what it’s like behind the wheel. Lots of white knuckles.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
The venue wasn’t big enough for the popular astrophysicist. More than 100 people crammed into and around Think’s Modern Infrastructure Campus Theatre, which was only meant to seat a couple dozen, to listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson. He discussed how humans know what is objectively true in the world and what their practical and philosophical limits are. Tyson managed to engage the audience in a very thought provoking discussion that weaved together concepts such as AI and automation. It also got plenty of laughs.

Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety for Walmart. Photo by Alex Coop.

IBM Food Trust
During a recent shareholders meeting, Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety for Walmart, said a group of food inspectors explained how they were able reduce the time it took to trace back the origin of a mango from six days and 18 hours to 2.2 seconds. The answer was blockchain. “The food system is similar to blockchain, it’s not linear,” Yiannas explained during a blockchain keynote Wednesday morning. Walmart, alongside several other companies, are partnering with IBM to form the IBM Food Trust project, which will solve a variety of food challenges such as food illness, traceability, food fraud and waste. After the presentation, Ramesh Gopinath, VP, Blockchain Solutions told ITWC that the impact on farmers will be next to zero, and they’ll be able to upload the information about their food using an app. “They won’t have to know anything about blockchain or how it works,” he said.

Wesam Lootah, CEO, Smart Dubai Government Establishment talks with Bridget van Kralingen, SVP of industry platforms for IBM during the blockchain keynote. Photo by Alex Coop.

A paperless Dubai
The city of Dubai wants to eliminate all paper – yes, all of it – by 2021. Wesam Lootah, CEO of Smart Dubai Government Establishment, talked about the city’s ambitious plan to use blockchain to digitize Dubai at Wednesday’s keynote about blockchain. “IBM understands Dubai and its vision,” Lootah said, referring to its partnership with IBM. He described blockchain technology as revolutionary, and said it’s been something he and his team has been studying for many years. He said they are now “way beyond a proof of concept,” but that the technology alone won’t be enough to make their goal a reality. “We need to transcend individual objectives,” he said, adding that is very much possible with the city’s “forward thinking” leadership.

Quantum computing is the ‘strangest, most wonderful thing’

We’re decades away from mainstream quantum computing, but the foundation is being laid now. During a press conference, Bob Sutor, VP of IBM Q Strategy and Ecosystem and IBM Research, said quantum computing is the “strangest, most wonderful thing” he’s ever seen. “It’s a whole new way of solving problems,” he added. Those problems involve chemistry and material sciences, areas where digital computers are limited in their ability to “compute with nature,” he explained. In this video, Talia Gershon, senior manager of AI challenges and quantum experiences, explains to the crowd what quantum computing is during the “5 in 5” presentation.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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