LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—International Business Machines Corp.'s Watson artificial-intelligence technology is on track to be used in some form by a billion people by the end of next year, Chief Executive Virginia Rometty said Wednesday.

Ms. Rometty, speaking at The Wall Street Journal's WSJDLive 2016 technology conference, pointed to the company's new deal with General Motors Co. to pair Watson with GM's OnStar system in cars as an example of how IBM is extending Watson's reach. She said such partnerships will have put Watson technology in contact with hundreds of millions of people by the end of this year.

Watson, a collection of artificial-intelligence software delivered as cloud-computing services, is a high-profile part of what IBM calls its "strategic imperatives" to help spur growth amid declines in long-established businesses like servers, software and computing services. Those businesses collectively grew 15% in the third quarter, excluding the effects of currency exchange rates. IBM's total revenue declined for the 18th straight quarter, but at the modest rate of 0.3%.

Ms. Rometty insisted her strategy is on track, noting that the company's revenue is off very little when considering that the company spun off businesses generating roughly $8 billion in annual revenue.

"Those are the right decisions to make," she said. "I make no apologies for them."

GM on Wednesday unveiled a Watson-assisted version of OnStar—a subscription service that provides navigation, diagnostics and other features—to offer mobile-commerce services beyond navigation and entertainment. The new system, dubbed OnStar Go, is designed to learn from users' behavior to deliver personalized offers from partners such as Exxon Mobil Corp.

For instance, the system might alert drivers who need fuel to make it to their next destination and point the way to Exxon Mobil stations en route. The system doesn't respond to voice commands now but will by late 2017, IBM said.

IBM on Wednesday also announced an arrangement with the business messaging service Slack, which helps workers to collaborate in private groups. San Francisco-based Slack will use Watson Conversation, an IBM service that processes natural language, to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of Slackbot, a customer-service bot that helps Slack users troubleshoot problems.

Ms. Rometty said the company is particularly enthusiastic about the uses of Watson in health care. IBM announced a relationship last week with Quest Diagnostics Inc., in which Watson will help analyze the results of genetic sequencing of tumor samples of cancer patients. She said IBM also is helping to provide Watson-based services to help doctors in India, which has a severe shortage of cancer specialists.

Asked about the ethical questions and other risks often linked to AI, Ms. Rometty said the company is working with companies like Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. in an effort to study the issues. She also praised recent federal policy statements about artificial intelligence.

"We must work with government," she said.

Rachael King contributed to this article.

Write to Don Clark at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 26, 2016 13:55 ET (17:55 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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