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View from the Airport: IBM Interconnect 2017

The future is blockchain... or AI... or maybe both

With the close of Interconnect 2017, I can now look back at my first time at IBM's annual cloud conference. Over the past few days one thing has become clear: blockchain has potentially dethroned Watson as IBM's new darling project. IBM is attempting to position itself as one of the companies on the cutting edge of blockchain, and it was eager to highlight that the tech has far more potential as an enterprise tool for supply chains and user data than it does for cryptocurrency. The company is really throwing its weight behind the technology; it believes blockchain's impact will be akin to the effects of the internet.

However this is not simply an attempt by another player to take a piece of the action, but an effort to create a standardised framework for those businesses seeking to use the technology. It's somewhat commendable and will certainly open up blockchain to new customers the challenge is convincing them to adopt a platform that is, by design, community driven.

The other buzzword was 'cognitive' IBM envisions every company using AI to support their operations over the next five to ten years. Although sweeping statements were often made about the mass integration of AI, specific use cases right now are fairly compelling, such as the ability for businesses to 'drag and drop' Watson APIs from the Bluemix cloud, or efforts to create conversational AI with Havyn.

To her credit, Ginni Rometty used her keynote address on Tuesday to have a genuine conversation about the future of AI and its potential impact on jobs. Her chat with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was less about celebrating the work of IBM (although that did feature somewhat), but more about reassuring businesses and the public that the two companies were working towards re-skilling future generations. This was echoed in her conversation with Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani, which featured the touching moment when Rometty offered three young coders an opportunity to intern at IBM in the summer.

Although IBM is keen for companies to move to the cloud, Interconnect was a gentle nudge rather than a shove. A new partnership with Red Hat gives customers new options to access hybrid cloud through IBM and the launch of Cloud Object Storage Flex is an attempt to fix the problematic price structuring of hot and cold storage. And despite the new announcements, IBM wanted to make it clear that on-prem is still a viable option for businesses.

IBM is only just getting started when it comes to blockchain, so expect to hear a lot more from the company over the next year.

Main image credit: Dale Walker, IT Pro

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