For future Web searches, you might need Watson
October 11, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft
are engaged in a fierce battle to control the lucrative Internet
search engine market.
a Chicago Innovation Awards honoree, may hold the key to victory
in this contested arena. Someday Watson could be as synonymous
with the next generation of search as Google is today.
If it succeeds, Watson,
which is being rolled out by Chicago-based Intellext (www.Intellext.com)
and distributed through Microsoft's MSN, could become an example
of an emerging style of the Chicago School of Entrepreneurship.
The real story of Watson
rests on the shoulders of three individuals: Intellext chief technology
officer and co-founder Jay Budzik, 27; Northwestern University
professor and Intellext co-founder Kris Hammond, 48; and Intellext
CEO Al Wasserberger, 38.
These three Chicago
entrepreneurs believe today's search engines are clunky relics.
"Search is great
technology, but it was never meant to be used the way it is today,"
Hammond said. "We are seeing the emergence of a new kind
of technology that is user-centric, task-centric and frees people
from the need to do search."
Watson is different
from current search engines. It is more like an online assistant.
Hence the name Watson, as in the famous first words spoken over
the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, "Watson, come here.
I need you."
Watson runs in the
background on your computer, fitting in a window on your screen.
It tracks your work, automatically searching the Internet, your
hard drive and your company's archives for relevant material.
walks into your office at noon and says 'lunch,' you know what
they mean," Budzik said. "Computers don't have an understanding
of context. When you type 'lunch' into a search engine, it doesn't
know where you live."
Watson aims to add
intelligence and context to computer search. Thus the three men
called their new company Intellext.
Watson began behind
the scenes at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Hammond was a young computer science professor at the University
of Chicago where Budzik was an undergraduate. They were hired
to provide a computer system to answer delegates' questions about
Hammond and Budzik
intended to answer questions themselves and build a knowledge
base to automate additional responses.
coming in, and no one could understand them," Budzik said.
"They were really terse like: 'Where do I take my kids?'
" Without knowing more about the context -- including the
children's interests and age -- the questions couldn't be answered.
Budzik saw an opportunity to improve computer search.
Budzik graduated with
honors from U. of C. in 1998 and followed his mentor Hammond to
Northwestern. Once in Evanston, Hammond created the DevLab, a
computer research and development laboratory dedicated to exploring
and commercializing new technology.
During a demonstration
of Watson that Hammond staged for Northwestern's trustees, Chris
Galvin, then CEO of Motorola, was impressed. He wanted Watson
for his own desktop, and Motorola became the first customer for
the Northwestern duo.
Last December, veteran
tech entrepreneur Wasserberger took the helm of the company to
help bring Watson to market. He moved the company downtown from
Evanston with his core mission to gain customers.
"I wanted to get
Watson into the hands of users who could reap the benefits of
the new technology" he said. "We got enterprise customers
like AT&T and individuals to start paying for it. Quickly
major online players like Google and Microsoft took notice."
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant. His tech
column appears Mondays in the Sun-Times.