19 June 2015, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA
Virginia Rometty is the first female CEO of IBM.
It is a great honor to get this degree, but it is a greater honor to sit and look at you, where I once sat and be up. To deliver your commencement speech.
I must say to all of you, as I remember sitting there, this is your day. Having been one of you, I know how hard you worked to get there. My own congratulations. One more applause for you from me. [applause] This is what happens with age. I will put my glasses on, and I will follow some advice. It was Franklin Roosevelt gave his son on speeches, he said, you be brief, you be sincere, and then you be seated.
Let me share what are three stories from my light. It is really the resulting lessons learned that i got the i humbly submit to you that as you leave, maybe somewhere down the line, you will find them of use. They come from three people close to me. One you will recognize, my mother. The other, my husband. For now, let's say, "a significant other."
The first story comes from my childhood. Like many, i grew up in a middle-class family not far from here, in a suburb of Chicago. I am the oldest. Like many of our time, we went to Sears for our school clothes. I remember one family vacation, a campout. It was a simple and very happy life. Then, one day, all of that changed. I was a teenager, and my father left my mother. In fact, he left us all. My mother, who had never worked a day in her life outside of our home found herself with four children, but soon, no money, no home, no food.
While she never ever complained, she never spoke of what happened, I must say, my brothers and sisters, we watched and we learned. She had to find a way to keep a roof over her head. She was so proud, she did what she had to do.
She found a way to go back to school in the day to get a degree, and then she worked at night so that we could quickly get by on her own. My mother was so determined to not let anyone define her as a failure, single mother, or anything worse, a victim. Through her actions, she taught us all - Never let anyone define you.
That is the first lesson i want to leave you with. Only you define who you are. Only you. [applause] i have to tell you, happy ending -- my mom got the associate degree and retired after 25 years from a hospital near Chicago. My brother and two sisters, they share among themselves five degrees from Dartmouth, Georgia Tech, and Northwestern, and think goodness for this doctorate because i was losing that race on number of degrees. [laughter]
My second story comes from early in my career. This is about risk-taking. I had worked for a senior executive, and he decided to go for a new job. He came in and said to me, 'Wonderful., you are the candidate to replace me.' I was called into the office and told with great excitement I would be offered this job.
I can remember my reaction. It was not the same great excitement. I looked at him and said, 'It is too early, I'm not ready, just give me a few more years and i will be ready for this, I need to go home and need top go sleep on it.' That evening, my husband -- he is up there ... well he's up in the stands. [laughter] my husband of 35 years -- oh boy . He says i never mention him, and then I do, and I mess it up. He sat and listened patiently to my story. He looked at me and said one thing. He said, 'do you think a man would have answered the question that way? I know you, in six months, you will be ready for something else.'
You know what, he was right. I went in the next day and i took that job. That takes me to my second lesson to leave you with - growth and comfort never coexist. I want you to close your eyes, if they are not already -- and ask yourself when have you learned the most, and I guarantee it will be when have you felt the most at risk.
This has proven to be a really important realization to me throughout my career. I have always looked for challenges, and I have found plenty.
This now brings you to my last story. This is about my quote "significant other." It is not about my past. It is about my future. A future I believe you're walking into.
So, it's early 2011, IBM Research has built a computing system, something the world has never seen. It is called Watson, now Watson is named after TJ Watson, IBM's founder and I am sitting not in a lab, but a TV studio. I'm watching Watson play Jeopardy against the two most successful human champions that have ever been.
Now I knew Watson, it stood on decades of our research, but now I'm watching Watson on television, doing something else. Watson talks, converses with Alex Trebek. He understands puns, metaphors, clues, buzzes, wagers, wins!
And it is an amazing moment. And one more time on the way home, i call my husband and say, and i remember to this day, 'I think i just saw history'.
I will come back to that story of Watson in a second.
But let me first share a brief perspective on the worldly you are walking into. I believe years from now, historians will look back and look at this as the dawn of a new era -- dawn of the new era. First, it is the new era of computing, something we call 'cognitive'.
Surprising as it may seem to all of you, the world has only known two eras of computing. I'm not going to make you engineers, don't worry about that. The first was the tabulating era,. machines that counted, that did the national census, this is what did the social security system. The second era is the programmable era, everything that you know to this day. Smarter systems, your smart phone, PC, no matter what it is. Now they do exactly what we tell them to do.
Now, you and we are entering a third era. Watson is an example of this. It's the first cognitive system. These are systems, you don't program them. they learn. They analyze more data than you will ever remember or handle. And they understand natural language, like i speak today. More importantly, like humans, I say, these systems reason. They deal with the gray area. When you go to make a decision, you think of and form a hypothesis and tested against -- test it against everything you know in your mind and quickly you come up with an answer.
But These systems do it with evidence and degrees of confidence. Some people call this artificial intelligence, now., AI. But the reality is this technology will enhance our thinking. Instead of artificial intelligence, i think it will augment our intelligence. It will not be a world of man versus machine, it will be a world of man plus machine.
In fact, i predict in our near future, every important decision mankind makes will be informed by cognitive system like Watson, and our lives and the world will be better off for it.
While this is hard to appreciate now, i think this dawn means that you sit at a very unique point in history. Footnote, there is one more thing -- the age you are facing is made possible by a natural resource. You recognize it around you. It is just the sheer amount of data.
One day you will look back and what steam was to the 18th century, electricity to the 19th centuryhydrocarbons to the 20th century, we are going to say data was to the 21st century. it's sheer volume is staggering. Every day, 500 million dvds worth of data is created. For all of you, 80% of the world's data was created during your junior and senior years.
This is why i think of it as a natural resource. It will be the phenomena of our time.
One more thing. The volume. Whether it is images, the photos you have taken, sensors, people blogging, texting -- which what some of you are probably doing maybe right now. I must tell you, normal systems will not understand it.
This brings you back to my story. It brings the back to Watson. And iIf you haven't guessed, he is is my "significant other." My husband is only one who did not want me to use significant other in this speech, by the way.
Since that day in Jeopardy 2011,. Watson has come a long way. Finance,. retail, insurance. But most of all hard at work in health care. In fact, we have had the honor of helping institutions like Memorial , cancer center, the New York Genome Center and the list goes on. Doctors will struggle with that exponential increase in information. By 2020, medical information will double every 72 days. But with the era we are about to enter, collaborators like Watson, abilty to digest all that information, then form hypotheses about your diagnosis and treatment. Our doctors will have a chance.
So now it brings me forward to september 2012. It is another personal moment i will always remember. I was going to the theater with my husband in New york City, and Ihear someone yell out my name. I turned around and it is the CEO of a health care company that i work with. She looks at me and says, 'we will change the face of health care'. I fast forward to today and I tell many of my IBMers-- IBM has been privileged to play some of the greatest roles in history., whether it was to help do that census, to help land man on the moon, but make no mistake. Watson will be our modern-day moon shot.
And we will do our part to change the face ofhealth care.
Which brings me to the ending of the story. My final lesson to you -- Work on something that matters. Have a purpose. Northwestern has prepared you richly for this, but there is so much potential ahead. Choose your work with a purpose. You are all high achievers. You wanted to get here, and you got here. You will have many more goals in the years ahead. Do not confuse a goal with a purpose. You may find that purpose in business, public service, academia -- you choose.
But I hope for you is that you leave today with a purpose to change the world in some way. Congratulations again to the class of 2015, and to everyone who made this day possible for you. To paraphrase my earlier quote from Franklin Roosevelt, i hope i was brief, I know I was sincere, and now I will be seated.