An online version of HP Autonomy IDOL can give IBM’s Watson a run for its money, says Robert Youngjohns
HP may still have its legal guns out to argue over the record breaking price it paid for Autonomy, but the Cambridge-based Big Data firm is starting to see success in transforming swathes of what HP is doing, with an online version of its IDOL flagship set to take on IBM’s Watson.
“We are comfortable with the future, and it’s starting to look like a success story,” Robert Youngjohns, the vice president in charge of HP Autonomy told TechWeekEurope. He says Autonomy now has a stronger development roadmap than before the HP acquisition, with links into HP products for about backup, web traffic analysis, and any other application where it can make itself useful.
He’s also welcoming back former Autonomy staff who left after the HP takeover, but have since retu. “Boomerang employees,” he calls them.
Backup, web stats… and discovery
“Big Data starts with prosaic things,” he said. Businesses find their enterprise continuity plan needs to take account of more kinds of data in more places than they realised, and Autonomy’s claim is that its technology can figure out which information is important and relevant.
Autonomy Idol is now embedded in HP’s Adaptive Backup product and version 8.1 makes it still more intelligent, Youngjohns said: “What we do is we tackle the end to end problem. We have back up and recovery and decent analytics.”
Backup used to be about what is on your own network, he said, but now it’s completely changed. It’s about data spread and shared across private and public clouds. There are niche products which take on parts of this more complex environment, he said, but nothing that handles the whole thing.
With version 8.1, Adaptive Backup becomes adaptive and self-healing, Youngjohns said: “If it is under pressure, it knows what to do.”
So, does this mean entrusting the product with decisions about what to backup, which would previously have been a human choice? “We say ‘machine augmented'” he answered. “We provide technology that allows people to make better decisions.”
Part of this is in better visualisation: “HP has an adjunct product called Backup Explorer, which shows people what is going on their centre. It’s machine augmented human technology.”
Marketing and Compliance
He’s also excited about Autonomy’s role in digital marketing.
“There is analytics associated with web visitors. If you have a marketing campaign, every target has hundreds of attributes,” he said “Can you use mathematical techniques to associate web data with marketing campaigns? Can you reshape those campaigns dynamically to get better results?”
This kind of job is already being done but with historical data, not in real time: “Real time is what marketing people have been dreaming of. This could be a breakthrough in the way marketeers think about using the web.”
He also mentions Autonomy’s role in compliance and discovery. HP Autonomy’s Digital Safe is based on a product Autonomy bought that stores ledgers and other information in a digital archive which will satisfy regulators as well as legal authorities in cases of complaints.
“Digital Safe can spot emails which might require attention,” he said, “For instance if the company offers share advice to the client, we can pick that up by analysing the text and pushing it into a supervision queue.
“Compliance is one of our most interesting businesses. It is dull until you are a bank which has picked up a fine of $2 million for not having the right complaint archive.” It’s also growing, in terms of the business, and the quantity of data: “Some customers have a 50 Petabyte archive, and add 30 to 50 million emails a week.”
But he’s most excited about IDOL OnDemand, a project to bring Autonomy Idol to the masses. Idol has some 300 tools built, in and HP has an early access programme to expose them as web services.
“People want to use these tools in their data centres. Now they are a series of services that people can use to bring new value to the web.” It’s a departure for Autonomy because, instead of bringing fully finished software products to market, this will provide a platform for others to generate software.
The idea started on a whiteboard in Cambridge and will ultimately make Idol part of other web applications, Youngjohns said: “It will be ready for a prime time announcement in a couple of months.”
One of the most interesting things being done with Idol OnDemand is a system to answer the questions on the Jeopardy TV show, where IBM’s Watson AI system performed so well.
Autonomy gave Idol OnDemand the contents of Wikipedia, and it got the answers 80 percent right. IBM’s Watson did better but that had hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. Youngjohns claimed that Idol OnDemand’s effort could have been improved if it had access to a source of showbusiness information, which is lacking on Wikipedia.
Another idea for Idol OnDemand is to have a system which decides for you what social media posts you will expire, and when. So drunken evenings fade from your public image, while family weddings remain. The system is there for real-world applications and as long as users are happy with the limitations of an early access system, Youngjohns predicts great things for it.