It seems that IBM’s Watson has finally blown through the $1 million that it won on a 2011 episode of the quiz show Jeopardy, as the system has found a day job. Department store chain Macy’s has announced that the question answering computer is set to start serving its customers as an in-store shopping assistant.
IBM and Macy’s have announced a pilot program that will span ten stores across the United States, according to a report from Venture Beat. The service will be called Macy’s On Call, and is accessible via web browser whether you’re in-store or at home.
Watson is particularly well-suited to this role, because the system is capable of answering questions asked in natural human language. IBM gave the example of a customer inquiring “where are the ladies shoes?” as the sort of query that the service will be able to take care of.
Like all good store attendants, Watson will handle questions about particular products, help customers negotiate the layout of the store, and even detail various in-store services that are specific to particular branches. However, IBM’s system hasn’t quite wrestled this job away from human workers just yet.
The pilot program will see five stores catered to by Watson flying solo, while another five will pair the computer with the option to request assistance from a Macy’s employee. It remains to be seen whether customers will prefer the more technologically reliant option, or would rather stick with a human touch.
The ten participating stores are spread across the country, and the pilot program is scheduled to last until late fall. Macy’s customers can check whether their local outlet are included in the program by heading to the Store Help page on the retailer’s website.