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IBM’s Watson AI can tell you, in real time, what are the hot items this holiday season

AP Images/Jon Simon/IBM
Unclear whether CEO Rometty will do all her holiday shopping using Watson.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Once a year, America becomes a nationwide battle royale, with parents literally fighting each other in the aisles of big-box stores to make sure they don’t miss out on the “it” toys for their children. But they no longer need to worry about that, thanks to IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence system.

Watson Trend, a new app released by IBM, predicts which products are going to be the hottest this holiday season, based on information it culls from scanning social media posts, review sites, and the web.

It sifts that information to determine the sentiment behind what people are saying about the products. The app can distill the tone, context and meaning behind each mention of the product online. According to the company, Watson tracks these products at a “rate humans can not.” Watson can filter out positive from negative comments to figure out just what we’re excited by, and it updates this information in real time. That means if something becomes so last week, Watson will know even before the cool kids in school do.

Watson Trend tracks three broad categories—technology, toys and healthcare products. Will it prove to be prophetic? Well, IBM’s sentiment tracker did a pretty good job of guessing the personalities of some famous writers we ran through it earlier this year. At the time of publishing, here were the top ten tech and toy products Watson thinks are going to be big sellers this year:

Toys

  1. Lego City
  2. Star Wars Lego
  3. Lego Friends
  4. Minecraft Legos
  5. R2-D2 Astromech Interactive Droid
  6. Lego Minifigures
  7. PAW Patrol
  8. Skylanders SuperChargers
  9. Minecraft
  10. Disney Infinity 3.0

Technology

  1. Apple Watch
  2. Samsung TVs
  3. Sony TVs
  4. Canon Cameras
  5. Nikon Cameras
  6. LG TVs
  7. Beats By Dre
  8. Sony Cameras
  9. Call of Duty
  10. Apple iMac

For the most part, it seems like IBM might be onto something. Analysts are predicting Lego and Star Wars to have big holiday seasons, and the brands of TVs and cameras Watson’s chosen are consistent consumer favorites. Apple Watch sales haven’t set the world on fire this year, but perhaps Watson knows something that we don’t. Wearables are likely going to have a good holiday season too, and Apple Watches could be the thing everyone decides to get, seeing as it’s in a similar price range to the iPod Touch and the iPad, and we’re not interested in those right now.

Watson has been busy in recent months. He met Bob Dylan, and got new headquarters in Boston and the Bay Area, and will soon help us predict the weather. IBM has been working on Watson since 2008, and has been working on selling its big data analysis expertise for nearly two years. In recent months, the company set up an API program to entice developers to build tools and apps based around Watson’s capabilities.

The same sentiment analysis and web-scanning tools being used by Watson Trend have been used to create everything from a fantasy football-monitoring app to a trip planner. As IBM looks to sell Watson to more large companies—CEO Ginni Rometty has pledged $1 billion to the platform—having consumer-friendly apps that show off its potential will certainly help get the brand out there. That’s the goal of the company’s blue-banded TV commercials too, even though IBM doesn’t have much to sell to the majority of the TV-watching public.

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