AT&T sells its Watson speech tech to customer care company Interactions

After spending years figuring out what to do with its internally developed speech recognition and interpretation technology, AT&T has found Watson a home. Instead of hanging out at AT&T Labs, Watson will be building virtual assistants for Interactions Corporation, a company that designs customer care systems for the Fortune 500.

Though Watson came out of AT&T Labs it was hardly a technology that fit in with [company]AT&T[/company]’s carrier business model (AT&T’s Watson shares a name with IBM’s artificial intelligence project, but they’re completely separate). In 2012, AT&T decided to commercialize the technology, selling access to Watson’s speech recognition and natural language understanding APIs to developers, putting it in direct competition with speech technology heavyweights such as [company]Nuance Communications[/company].

Image: Shutterstock / brem stocker

Image: Shutterstock / brem stocker

But AT&T now seems to have changed its mind, turning the Watson platform, its associated intellectual property and even its research staff over to a company already in the speech business. Instead of taking cash though, AT&T is taking an undisclosed amount of equity in Interactions.

Interactions builds automated phone attendants for Hyatt, Humana, LifeLock, Best Western and other companies in the retail, travel, banking and healthcare sectors. The company, however, says it plans to use Watson to take its customer service systems to the next level, creating an “interface of things” that will bring together speech, touch and text into a kind of multi-modal smorgasbord of company-customer interactions.

We’ll see. I have no doubt that Watson could probably help build a better customer service platform. But Nuance and other sophisticated speech technologies are already readily used to power virtual assistants and automated attendants. The problem isn’t the technology; it’s the intent of the company using it. My experience with customer care virtual assistants is that they want you do one of two things: either leave them alone or buy something.