IBM Ups the Ante on Watson and Cognitive Computing

IBM WatsonToday IBM announced a big investment in its IBM Watson technology and business. IBM is establishing a separate business unit for Watson, which includes a $100 million equity fund to promote small companies developing solutions within the IBM Watson ecosystem. The new business unit comes with a swanky office (see link above) in New York City’s East Village, which is home to other prominent Silicon Alley types.

There was pretty broad press coverage of the IBM announcement, but I found an article by Neal Ungerleider on Fast Company’s website to be one of the better articles on the topic. Ungerleider points out that IBM is introducing two new Watson-fueled products called IBM Watson Analytics Advisor and IBM Watson Discovery Advisor. The Analytics tool is apparently meant to be a fairly easy to use version of Watson’s question answering system that businesses can tap into. Users can send large datasets into the cloud, ask questions about the data, and let Watson do all the processing to return the answers. I’m imagining a scenario where a travel company uploads a slew of transactional, and maybe even unstructured, data to the Watson cloud and asks: “What travel destination specials should we be offering to people who live in region X” or “how can we better entice people to book a car when they book a flight?”

The Discovery Advisor tool is apparently geared more towards helping research organizations analyze and make sense of huge datasets. The articles I’ve seen indicate that areas of focus for Discovery Advisor are currently pharmaceutical, publishing, and education research.

Ungerleider also points out that IBM announced plans to move the Watson infrastructure to its Softlayer cloud platform. Critics of Watson have used the technology’s impractical hardware requirements as one of the reasons for its slow commercial adoption. Offering Watson as a Software as a Service might remove some of those concerns.

I’ve written about IBM Watson several times on the blog and I see a lot of potential for cognitive computing. The fact that IBM is putting such a big investment behind Watson dispels any doubt about how bullish they are on the technology’s future possibilities. But AI has had a difficult time living up to the hype, so it’ll be interesting to see how cognitive computing evolves over the next couple of years and whether IBM’s bet pays off. In the meantime, you can watch the cool promotional video.

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