IBM Study Tour with Nooemy

event 01 giugno 2023


It all started over two years ago when Extra Red responded and won a tender from Mooney S.p.A. to create a conversational assistant. After about a year and a half, the project gave birth to Nooemy: a chatbot developed with IBM Watson Assistant, accessible both from Mooney's website and mobile application, capable of answering customer queries about all Mooney products. The chatbot covers 98% of the questions users ask, which is an excellent result. Encouraged by this, we decided to nominate it for the Tech Challenge organized by IBM Italy in 2022. We won the round and as a result, we secured two spots in the IBM Study Tour scheduled for spring 2023 in the United States.

The tour has just concluded, and my colleague Carlo and I had the privilege of visiting three IBM research centers:

  • IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York
  • IBM Innovation Studio in Poughkeepsie, NY
  • IBM Research Almaden in San Jose.

Yes, that's right, we traversed across America. The departure was on April 22nd, and the participants arrived from different cities, but we all met at the New York airport. It was a perfect synchrony. From the beginning, it was clear that it would be an exciting tour: the company was vibrant, full of energy, and eager to be together. We were six IBM partner companies that had won the three rounds of the Challenge.

Upon arriving on Saturday afternoon at the hotel in the heart of Times Square, we were struck by the city, and we immediately set off to get a taste of the Big Apple. Sunday was free, but the group didn't disperse easily, and some of us set off together for a sort of half marathon: walking over 20 km to see as much as possible of a city with a thousand faces.

On Monday morning, the bus awaited us to take us to the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, which was about an hour and a half away considering the traffic. The agenda for the day was packed with IBM presentations. We heard about the upcoming steps in AI with Foundation Models, multicloud and hybrid cloud platforms, security, sustainability in IBM product manufacturing and usage. We also heard about Quantum Computing and much more. The speakers were all individuals with significant experience and importance within IBM, including the vice president. Soon, we realized that it was not an everyday occurrence to live such a day. The highlight was undoubtedly the visit to the center, where we saw the prototype of quantum computing, a truly awe-inspiring moment.

On April 25th, the alarm clock rang quite early because we had a scheduled visit to the Poughkeepsie center, which had an equally intense and interesting agenda as the previous day. Today, we heard about LinuxOne, the synergy between IBM and Red Hat (acquired by IBM a few years ago), resilient memory, mainframes, and the developments IBM is conducting on its hardware. The tour of the center allowed us to see one of the existing quantum computers, and this time it was real and functional—one of the 24 present in the center. A remarkable note: the processor's temperature is the lowest in the universe!

On the morning of the 26th, we returned to the Poughkeepsie center for an interactive session between IBM partners and IBM itself for collective design thinking. The session was preceded by a talk, and then it was all hands on deck! In the late morning, we returned to New York, ready to fly the next morning to San Francisco. The afternoon was free, and we spent it as a group, exploring the multifaceted city. This time, we went to Coney Island by the sea

 and then treated ourselves to a hot dog in Central Park, just like true New Yorkers.

We woke up at dawn for the flight to San Francisco. The group became even more cohesive, and the transfer hours felt light due to shared enthusiasm. Upon arriving in San Francisco, as with New York, we didn't let fatigue get to us. We put on our comfortable shoes and immediately started a tour of the city. The Californian climate, characterized by widespread microclimates, was immediately recognizable, and within a few meters, we went from sunshine to fog and wind. However, the bay was irresistible, as was Pier 39.

The dinner offered by IBM brought us all together, and toasting to an experience that, although not yet concluded, was becoming more extraordinary each day. On the morning of the 28th, the bus took us to the last IBM location on the tour: the IBM Research Almadena San Jose, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. All the IBM locations were beautiful, surrounded by greenery and parks where ducks and turkeys roamed freely.

Here, the agenda was the "icing on the cake," but even more astonishing were three Italian researchers waiting for us to share the projects they were working on. Sara, Stefano, and Annalisa captivated us with their presentation on projects so innovative that it felt like we had been transported directly into the future. The center tour also gave us the opportunity to meet other researchers, such as Keevin P. Roche, who has been working at IBM for 40 years and enjoys breaking apart and reassembling atoms to find other elements to use in creating new hardware.

Tired but incredibly satisfied and enchanted, we returned to San Francisco to prepare for the long journey back. It was an unforgettable week, not only for the opportunity to visit two great cities like New York and San Francisco and meet companies that, like Extra, believe in IBM technology and offer it to their customers but also for the unique chance to enter and be guests in three centers where history has been made and where the future of technology is being shaped. We saw quantum computing, electron microscopes, heard about Foundation Models, AI applied to cells to fight cancer, new memory with computational capabilities, sustainable and green technology, and much more. What we undoubtedly take home is the belief that IBM is a great company that invests a tremendous amount in research, far more than one could imagine.

A tour that we will certainly never forget and that brings us new inspiration and solutions for our customers.