IBM uses its annual Think conference as a platform to highlight movements in its business and present innovation, and this year was no exception. During this year’s Think event, held May 20-23 in Boston, the tech giant announced several updates to its watsonx platform, promising to make artificial intelligence more accessible, cost-effective and flexible for businesses.

We highlight the key announcements from IBM Think and detail the possible impact on IT pros in Australia in particular, with insights from Nick Flood, IBM’s managing director for Australia.

What are some key announcements from IBM Think?

IBM released a family of Granite models into open source and launched InstructLab in collaboration with Red Hat

Available under Apache 2.0 licenses on Hugging Face and GitHub, the open-source Granite models range from 3B to 34B parameters and come in both base and instruction-following model variants. Those variants are suitable for various tasks, including complex application modernization, code generation, fixing bugs, explaining and documenting code and maintaining repositories.

IBM unveiled a new range of watsonx assistants

IBM’s annual Global AI Adoption Index recently found that, while 42% of enterprise-scale companies (> 1,000 employees) surveyed have implemented AI in their businesses, another 40% of those companies that are exploring or experimenting with AI have yet to deploy their models.

To help those struggling to embrace AI, IBM announced the following upcoming updates and enhancements to its family of watsonx assistants:

  • watsonx Assistant for Z to transform how users interact with the system to quickly transfer knowledge and expertise. Availability is planned for June 2024.
  • An expansion of watsonx Code Assistant for Z Service with code explanation to help clients understand and document applications through natural language. Availability is planned for June 2024.
  • watsonx Code Assistant for Enterprise Java Applications. Availability is planned for October 2024.

IBM previewed new capabilities for AI-powered automation

At the event, IBM previewed a new generative AI-powered tool called IBM Concert, which will be generally available in June 2024. IBM claimed that Concert will serve as the “nerve centre” of an enterprise’s technology and operations. Powered by AI from watsonx, IBM Concert will provide generative AI-driven insights across clients’ portfolios of applications to identify, predict and suggest fixes for problems.

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In addition, IBM announced a wide range of activities with third parties, ranging from AWS and Microsoft to Adobe, Meta and SAP. In partnership with these companies, IBM is bringing third-party models onto watsonx, and offering IBM Consulting expertise for enterprise business transformation. This allows end-user customers adopt and scale AI solutions that are specific to their business needs.

What does this IBM news mean for Australia?

First and foremost, according to IBM’s Nick Flood, the company’s announcements will help Australians grapple with several headline issues in the economy, including the skills shortage and a lack of productivity.

“The number one issue on the minds of boards and elected officials in Australia is productivity, specifically Australia’s lack of it,” Flood said. He cited data from the Centre for Economic Development of Australia and the OECD, where Australia ranks as low as 61 out of 63 counties in some areas. “We’re going backwards,” Flood said, “and comparatively, we’re lagging behind comparable countries like the United Kingdom, United States.”

Flood believes that taking a leadership position in generative AI and quantum computing can help Australia leapfrog ahead in terms of productivity. “I’m full of optimism that, with great Aussie ingenuity and these emerging technologies, we can leapfrog ahead in terms of productivity. And everyone’s going to benefit from that.”

Flood also shared exciting work around how generative AI is helping in the Australian setting overcome critical skill shortages. “At our THINK conference, we launched two generative AI capabilities specifically for IBM mainframe technology,” he said. These include watsonx Assistant for Z, a generative AI-based chat agent that can generate contextualised run sheets or recommendations, and include watsonx Code Assistant for Z, which can take legacy mainframe architectures and code and rewrite them into more contemporary programming languages, all without human intervention.

Challenges to AI and IBM’s vision in Australia

Despite his optimism, Flood acknowledged the challenges that stem from AI adoption in Australia. “One of the other headlight topics on the minds of boards and CIOs, CEOs, elected officials is cyber risk,” he said.

Hyperscale cloud platforms are still a roadblock

He noted that Australian clients who want to step into generative AI are hesitating when they are required to make exclusive use of hyperscale cloud platforms. They desire a setup in which they could live in a hybrid setup where certain large language models would sit securely on Australian shores in their data centre.

Flood highlighted the importance of understanding these technologies and how they can be applied to work. “I think the number one challenge is really ensuring that there’s a consistency of understanding across the organisation and across all operations or disciplines, not just in IT, around what generative AI could do for the enterprise,” he said.

Social responsibility is key to AI

He also acknowledged that there were some social challenges that need to be kept in mind, particularly in multicultural societies such as Australia. Flood said it’s imperative that, as IT professionals build and roll out AI, it’s free of bias and aligned to the highest ethical standards.

“IBM is taking a lot of proactive steps to engage with government to ensure that as AI proliferates across the economy, there’s safeguards in place, and there’s discussion initiated to think about both the intended and the unintended consequences and how best to govern the detrimental impacts of the latter.”

SEE: 9 Innovative Use Cases of AI in Australian Businesses in 2024

IBM’s commitment to Australia includes supporting quantum computing

Finally, Flood made it clear that IBM is not a bystander in the Australian market; the company established operations in 1932, and now maintains around 3,600 staff in the country. Far from being a branch or sales office, IBM’s local team generates patents and supports customers on a technical level.

Currently, this means IBM is actively supporting Australia to achieve its quantum computing ambitions. “Earlier in the month, IBM and the University of Sydney won a US $10 million award from IAPRA. Sydney University researchers will work now with IBM researchers and use the IBM quantum capability delivered over the IBM cloud from Yorktown Heights in upstate New York to develop new mechanisms around quantum error suppression, which is a really key milestone that the world will need to overcome on the path to quantum utility,” Flood said.

“Also, earlier this month IBM was delighted to be part of a consortia with the University of Sydney that won a $18.3 million Australian grant from the Albanese government to develop the Australian Centre for Quantum Growth at the University of Sydney.

“We are passionate about the national interest,” Flood said. “We’re very proud of what we have achieved in this country.”

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Subscribe to the Daily Tech Insider AU Newsletter

Stay up to date on the latest in technology with Daily Tech Insider Australian Edition. We bring you news on industry-leading companies, products, and people, as well as highlighted articles, downloads, and top resources. You’ll receive primers on hot tech topics that are most relevant to AU markets that will help you stay ahead of the game. Delivered Thursdays