IBM Bets Big On “Cognitive Cloud” Powered By Super-Brain, Watson

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The International Business Machine (IBM)’s new Watson Group is growing to meet the rising commercial demands for artificial intelligence in retail, healthcare, education and more.

You may have heard of Watson, IBM’s artificially intelligent supercomputer. Developed by IBM’s Deep Q&A project, the machine was designed to respond to natural language – specifically, to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy.

Having competed and won Jeopardy in 2011 against two champions, Watson was assigned to its first commercial application in 2013, partnering with healthcare company WellPoint.

Watson can sift through and process about 1 million books (200 million pages of data) in about three seconds flat – for WellPoint, and healthcare in general, this might mean quick and accurate diagnosis and treatment suggestions.

The Watson Group

Demand for AI is not limited to health care alone, with smart machines poised to become the most disruptive form of modern information technology.

IBM announced in January 2014 their formation of the Watson Group, “a new business unit dedicated to the development and commercialization of cloud-delivered cognitive innovations.”

The company is investing $1 billion into the Watson Group, which will develop new software, services, and apps that – like Watson – utilize transformative cognitive technology for various industries.

One major initiative will be deploying Watson on IBM’s recently acquired cloud infrastructure, Softlayer.

In May 2014, IBM gained an edge by acquiring the AI startup Cognea, which offers “virtual assistants” that can take on a variety of personalities to communicate, from suit-and-tie to kid-next-door.

The goal? To create conversational computer services for everyone – including business partners, universities, entrepreneurs, and enterprises within an ecosystem of partners.

In light of a computer passing the Turing Test for the first time ever, fooling over 30% of people into thinking it was human, it’s clear that AI is passing milestones left and right – Watson is only one player in a fastly accelerating game.

The Watson Platform

Within the Watson Group, a technology development system called the Watson Platform is being developed. The platform is basically a library of cognitive components created by scientists and engineers for the use of developers.

Developers use these components to create cognitive apps that tap into Watson’s super-brain-power. Developers in this ecosystem partnership include:

  • Fluid, Inc: developed the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper, an app that helps you shop
  • MD Buyline: a hospital and health care system partner
  • Welltok, Inc: developing an app to create Intelligent Health Itineraries for consumers
  • Healthline: more solutions for health information, data, and technology
  • Elance: cloud service to connect app providers with skilled freelancers

(Not listed on Ecosystem Partners page, but announced by IBM)

  • Modulus: real-time analysis of massive, unstructured data for investors
  • Reflexis System: allows store managers to maximize profits by tracking consumer behavior trends
  • Modernizing Medicine: developing app for dermatologists to offer optimal diagnosis and treatment to patients

The app challenge

Lastly, to show off Watson’s capability, IBM set up a contest in February that allowed developers to create Watson-powered apps in a challenge.

Here are the three grand prize winning apps:

  1. GenieMD: allows individuals to manage their health through personalized data and recommendations

  2. Majestyk’s Fang: Friendly Anthropomorphic Networked Genome (Fang) is an education app – in a cognitive, cuddly plush companion – that teaches kids through contextual interactions

  3. Red Ant: Mobile app that acts as a sales assistant for employees by analyzing customers demographics, shopping history to provide customized selling points

The winning developers were awarded access to the IBM developers cloud, and will be able to commercialize their prototypes for the market — spreading the power of Watson and AI far beyond Jeopardy.

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Jennifer Markert