With IBM's Watson, GlaxoSmithKline tackles sniffle and cough questions

IBM kicks off A.I.-focused World of Watson conference this week

ibm watson health

IBM established its Watson Health unit in 2015.

Credit: IBM

If you start feeling a cold or flu coming on this season, you will be able to reach out to IBM's artificial intelligence-fueled Watson to find some answers to your sniffly, coughy questions.

GlaxoSmithKline, (GSK) the world's sixth-largest pharmaceutical company, is teaming up with IBM to use Watson to better connect with customers.

The London-based company plans to start using Watson Ads in November, enabling people to ask questions by voice or text right through GSK's online ads.

Jason Andree, senior brand manager of the Cough and Cold division of GlaxoSmithKline North America, will announce the move at the start of the IBM World of Watson conference in Las Vegas this week.

jason andree glaxo smith kline GlaxoSmithKline

Jason Andree, senior brand manager of the Cough and Cold division of GlaxoSmithKline North America.

The event, which focuses on changing business through cognitive computing, analytics and big data, runs from today to Thursday.

IBM's Watson system first earned its fame in 2011 when it took on the game show Jeopardy's human champions in a well-publicized man-vs-machine dust up.

Since then, Watson has gone from playing games to being used in healthcare, finance, education, retail and research.

"Any time you get sick, it's a very personal experience," Andree told Computerworld. "Watson provides a very personalized experience.... If you're sick, through Watson, you can ask a question and it will provide a personalized response."

As the cold and flu season arrives, GSK is rolling out the Watson-based question and answer feature first for its Theraflu cold and flu medication. If it works out well, Andree said the company will likely roll it out for Flonase during the 2017 allergy season.

"It's very cutting edge and I'm very proud that Theraflu is able to participate in this," he said. "I really think, for us, at the heart of it we're trying to provide the right information for our consumers and that will result in a deeper relationship with our customers.... The intent is not to replace a human aspect or consulting a physician. This is for the individual searching the web and getting them an immediate answer."

Once the feature is up and running, users will be able to ask the company - right through its ads - questions like, "How do I treat my cough?" or "Where can I find a medication to treat a runny nose?"

With Watson's natural language capabilities, along with A.I. and machine learning, customers should get quick and accurate answers to their questions.

"You won't have to go online and do a search and go through the results to find what you want," said Andree. "It's very interactive.... At first, it will give you a quick response and then it will [help with] follow-up questions. It's not going to diagnose you, but it can provide information about what store they need. It can provide a coupon for what they need and it can direct them to pages in the website for more information."

Andree noted that using A.I. to connect with potential customers not only helps GSK stand out in a cluttered pharmaceutical market, but is also a way to better understand customers.

"It's learning on the fly," he said. "Right now, one of the day-to-day ways we interact with consumers is with the customer hotline where people can call in and ask questions. Today it's very limited in what we learn.... Consumers will applaud and appreciate brands that get them. I'm hoping this is something customers take away - being where they need us to be."

The IBM World of Watson conference is expected to spotlight how A.I. - and specifically Watson - can affect industries, customer relations and the Internet of Things.

This story, "With IBM's Watson, GlaxoSmithKline tackles sniffle and cough questions" was originally published by Computerworld.

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