IBM finally finds a private equiteer willing to purchase Watson Health

As poker players ponder whether tech is ruining their favourite game

In brief IBM has offloaded healthcare data and analytics assets from its Watson Health business to private equity firm Francisco Partners.

The takeover “is a clear next step as IBM becomes even more focused on our platform-based hybrid cloud and AI strategy,” Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president, IBM Software, told Bloomberg. “IBM remains committed to Watson, our broader AI business, and to the clients and partners we support in healthcare IT.”

Launched in 2015, IBM Watson Health hasn’t been able to turn a profit despite the company spending $4bn in acquisitions to grow the business and its capabilities.

IBM has tried to whittle down its Watson Health division for a while, after struggling to sign hospitals as clients. The assets sold to Francisco Partners are said to be worth a billion dollars though financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Algorithms are improving poker players’ skills but are they ruining the game?

Professional poker players are increasingly consulting specialized poker software programs to boost their chances of winning, but some believe it has made the game less fun and encourages cheating online.

PioSOLVER, available for purchase starting from $249, allows players to recreate game scenarios and calculates the optimal strategy that should be played given the cards available. Some professional poker players, described by the New York Times, use the software to replay their games to see if they played their cards correctly, others boot up PioSOLVER to learn and memorize new strategies.

Poker is seen as a mostly-solved problem in computer science. Libratus, an AI model, beat the top players in a no limit heads-up no-limit Texas competition in 2017. At the time, Tuomas Sandholm, one of Libratus’ creators, said it was unlikely people could run the complex software to cheat. But some claim that PioSOLVER is now helping mediocre poker players to rack up wins.

It’s unclear if PioSOLVER relies on similar machine learning techniques as Libratus, as little information is available about the algorithms it employs.

Doug Polk, a notable semi-retired poker player, said: “I feel like it kind of killed the soul of the game.” The game has turned from “who can be the most creative problem-solver to who can memorize the most stuff and apply it.”

PioSOLVER’s creator, Piotrek Lopusiewicz, however, said similar poker-solving programs have been available for a while and that his software is merely the latest advance in the field.

Rent a robot for less than the cost of human labour

There’s a robot that presses metal to make things like hinges or locks, and it’s cheaper to hire than human workers.

Built by a company named Formic, the machine is pretty much one long mechanical arm. Its job is to pick up bits of metal and put them into a press for shaping. It can work without any breaks for its employer, Polar Hardware Manufacturing, and costs about $8 per hour - less than the minimum wage of $15 in Chicago, Wired first reported.

Companies like Formic help industrial factories recruit robot workers without having to pay for the whole machine. Customers can, instead, rent the company’s metal arms to perform simple, repetitive tasks whenever they want. Its cheaper, and they don’t have to faff around with things like software or maintenance.

“Anything that can help reduce labor count or the need for labor is obviously a plus at this particular time,” said Steve Chmura, chief operating officer at Georgia Nut, a confectionery company in Illinois that also rents robots from Formic. Chmura has been able to staff up with robot workers during the pandemic; these machines can take over if human employees quit or get sick. ®

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