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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.

IBM and Salesforce will work together on artificial intelligence under a surprise partnership announced this afternoon.

The companies will combine aspects of their respective AI technologies — IBM’s Watson and Salesforce’s Einstein — in a new bid to win customers in the emerging world of cloud-based artificial intelligence. For example, they say, Watson could analyze shopping patterns, weather and retail data, working in conjunction with Salesforce Einstein to help a retailer send automated personalized marketing emails to customers.

“Within a few years, every major decision—personal or business—will be made with the help of AI and cognitive technologies,” said Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and chief executive officer, IBM in the news release announcing the deal. “This year we expect Watson will touch one billion people—through everything from oncology and retail to tax preparation and cars. Now, with today’s announcement, the power of Watson will serve the millions of Salesforce and Einstein customers and developers to provide an unprecedented understanding of customers.”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said in the announcement, “The combination of Einstein and Watson will make businesses smarter and our customers more successful. I’m thrilled to form an alliance with IBM—no company’s core values are as close to Salesforce’s as IBM’s. It’s the best of both worlds.”

The new alliance is notable in part because Salesforce has partnered with Microsoft in the cloud in the past, which could have lead to a natural partnership in AI, as well. However, the relationship hasn’t been the same since Microsoft beat Salesforce in the bidding for LinkedIn.

As part of the partnership, the companies said, IBM will roll out Salesforce Service Cloud for its global product support organization.

[Editor’s Note: Salesforce is a GeekWire annual sponsor.]

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