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IBM Watson supercomputer
IBM’s Watson AI software is best-known for winning at “Jeopardy!” in 2011. (Credit: IBM)

IBM is partnering with credit card giant Visa to spread the use of its IBM Watson supercomputing and artificial intelligence technologies into the retail world.

According to IBM, consumers will soon be able to use everything from washing machines to cars to fitness watches to make purchases using Visa.

“IoT is literally changing the world around us, whether it’s allowing businesses to achieve unimaginable levels of efficiency or enabling a washing machine to ensure we never run out of detergent,” explained Harriet Green, IBM Watson IoT general manager, in a statement.

The new initiative is a potential competitor to Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service, which is embedded in household devices such as washing machines and water pitchers, sensing when new supplies are needed and automatically reordering on Amazon.

In its announcement, IBM suggested that your fitness watch might also want to keep track of how many miles you’ve logged on your running shoes – and then prompt you to order new ones with a personalized recommendation, informed by all the information about you that’s been recorded by the fitness watch (such as your running style, speed and typical distance).

Jim McCarthy, Visa Inc.’s executive vice president of innovation and strategic partnerships, observed that it’s another good illustration of how technology is changing the way consumers spend.

“The Internet of Things is not only driving a more connected world, it’s changing the way we live, shop and pay, by moving data and the point-of-sale to wherever the consumer wants it to be,” he said.

The companies made the joint announcement in Munich, Germany today at events marking the official opening of IBM’s new $200 million Watson “Internet of Things” headquarters.

In a separate development, IBM also announced plans to offer the Big Data machine learning capabilities of Watson to users in the private cloud. IBM said that it will offer Watson to customers of its IBM z Systems mainframe – which it says will speed up analytical tasks for very complex models (such as the modelling the impact of health care cost changes or climate change).

The company claims that IBM z Systems mainframe is already capable of “processing up to 2.5 billion transactions – the equivalent of roughly 100 Cyber Mondays – in a single day.”

The real point of adding Watson to the IBM z Systems mainframe is not just upping the speed of throughout. It’s about using Cognitive Automation for Data Scientists from IBM Research to pick the right algorithms to work with the data – and then using IBM Machine Learning to more efficiently work with that data without having to move it elsewhere first.

“IBM Machine Learning was designed leveraging our core Watson technologies to accelerate the adoption of machine learning where the majority of corporate data resides,” said Rob Thomas, General Manager of IBM Analytics. “As clients see business returns on private cloud, they will expand for hybrid and public cloud implementations.”

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