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The IBM Watson supercomputer that played Jeopardy!
The IBM Watson supercomputer.

IBM Watson Could be Offered as Technology as a Service

IBM Watson - a cognitive computer - starred on Jeopardy! a few years ago. Today, IBM is experimenting with offering a way to reach Watson through a cloud service, and recently asked USC students for creative ways to apply Watson to business and social challenges.

The IBM Watson supercomputer.

The IBM Watson supercomputer.

After much media attention when IBM's Watson took on top Jeopardy champions in 2011 and won, the team behind the cognitive computer has helped it gain greater understanding of content and context. Today, IBM is experimenting with offering a way to reach Watson through a cloud service, and recently asked USC students for creative ways to apply Watson to business and social challenges.

Watson in the Cloud

IBM's Stephen Gold, a director with IBM Watson solutions, shared with Datanami that, "IBM has begun an internal pilot and the company is currently working on ways to infuse the Watson technology into its entire portfolio." One possible scenario is to make it available as a service through the cloud. Positioned with a unique front-end that ingests natural language data, Watson is able to parse massive amounts of data looking for candidate answers. IBM hopes to accelerate the development of its platform, so it can offer the Watson technology as a service.

Since its Hollywood debut on Jeopardy, Watson has been used in limited applications. In the fall of 2011, IBM and Wellpoint announced intentions to build commercial applications for healthcare based on IBM Watson technology. Watson's ability to understand the meaning and context of human language and process large amounts of information will be used to help target options for a patient's circumstances and help physicians identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients. About a year ago, IBM Watson went to Wall Street and was employed to advise Citigroup on portfolio and client risk. In this case, Watson was delivered as a cloud-based service and earn a percentage of the additional revenue and cost savings it is able to help financial institutions realize. Earlier this year, IBM donated a powerful version of its Watson computing system to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for research and development in big data, analytics and cognitive computing.

IBM Taps Academia for Where Watson Should Work Next

Recently, IBM turned to young minds at the University of Southern California to compete in the IBM Watson Academic Case Competition.  With IBM business leaders present and listening, the challenge put students in the spotlight to create business plans for applying Watson to pressing business and societal challenges. To set the stage, IBM demonstrated how Watson is helping WellPoint and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center improve the speed and quality of treatment for cancer patients.

As part of the competition, students were assigned into 24 teams and given 48 hours to define a new purpose for Watson, develop a business plan, and present it to a panel of judges comprising school officials, IBM executives and local business leaders. To foster interdisciplinary collaboration, each team was required to have at least one business and one engineering member from USC’s Marshall Business School and Viterbi School of Engineering.  Three winning ideas were selected. First place was for legal research - letting Watson do the discovery for your next legal case.  Second place was an idea for employee training - having Watson uncover the keys to success for your employees. The third place idea was for post-traumatic stress disorder - having Watson help doctors find patients.

"Partnering with universities such as USC gives IBM a unique opportunity to tap into the minds of our next-generation of leaders, whose training, skills and ideas for changing the world are all forward-thinking and based on a desire to make a meaningful impact,” said Manoj Saxena, IBM General Manager, Watson Solutions. "These students see what Watson is doing right now and think -- how else will cognitive computing impact my life and career in the years to come? To us, that's exactly the mindset that should be fueling IBM innovations, and the very reason we host Watson Academic Case Competitions."

The Watson Case Competition at USC, the third in a series hosted by IBM, is the latest example of IBM's work with academia to advance interest among students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculums that will lead to high-impact, high-value careers.  Over the last two years, students at USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab have been using big data analytics technologies to conduct social sentiment analyses and determine public engagement on topics such as sports, film, retail and fashion. Two of the biggest projects looked at Major League Baseball's World Series and the Academy Awards, projects developed for students to explore and expand their skills as they prepare for new data-intensive careers. A recent Gartner report estimates that 1.9 million big data jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2015.

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