World of Watson

The place, IBM World of Watson held in Las Vegas. The time, 2016, or rather, the not-too-far future 🙂  Watson and the field of machine learning represent a truly exciting and terrifying potential shift in the way industries will function, and a further domino effect of how we will all work and live. Machine learning doesn’t get much attention today, aside from curvy AI’s run amok through Hollywood scripts, but it does represent a technology comfortably placed within the oft abused category of the ‘singularity’. This is because we honestly don’t know the destination, or how soon we’ll get there. Right now, the furthest we can see is neural style computer vision explorations, densecap, and some interesting audio processing… all in all, while moving impressively fast, it’s still a young and pretty one dimensional field. At the World of Watson show, the showcase was pretty much about how many industries will be affected by predictive modeling and inventory shaping. It’s all about efficiencies never before seen because we’d be letting the thinking computers figure it out better than we can. From AI run bakeries to cognitive lipstick (I did not make this up, i swear), it’s coming and it’s coming fast.

What was Helios doing there? While a good number of our devs are super active on our own AI Slack channel, we were asked to do something arguably much simpler. We were asked to create something playful. We built a 20′ x 20′ interactive seamless LED floor. This was positioned at the main entrance to the convention hall and at the entrance to IBM’s largest booth. The intention was to funnel people into the booth in a way that’s both interesting and attention grabbing. The ‘interesting’ part was all the messaging that appeared underfoot as you walked across the floor. We had many visitors spend time reading them all. The ‘attention grabbing’ part was met by creating a playful interaction which kind of looked like an on-brand and on-design disco floor. Icons (from a set of 36) would randomly fade on and off throughout the large footprint in the hall. When a visitor stepped on one of the icons, they’d be presented with messaging associated with the graphic. If more than 10 people were occupying the floor space simultaneously, the floor presented a full-screen takeover of enormous quotes and a Watson animation. The whole installation was very eye catching, and easy to enjoy at an otherwise stiff show.

Key learnings : From a software dev point of view, this was a difficult one to test in the lab, adjustable sliders for EVERY foreseeable attribute was key to success. We could tweak many things quickly onsite. We also made tools to effectively expose any potential bugs without needing the complete hardware installation for testing. For example, our “walkers” app simulated people walking across the floor, in order to make sure all software was working as expected.

Devs: Alpay Kasal & Osman Koc
Producer: Jon Fox

Guests interacting with the floor

A full-screen takeover occurs when more than 10 people are on the floor

Setting up the LED floor