IBM Watson Computer Oracle Shipped to University to Extend Abilities
A modified version of the powerful IBM Watson computer system, able to understand natural spoken language and answer complex questions, will be provided to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, making it the first university to receive such a system.
IBM announced Wednesday that the Watson system is intended to enable upstate New York-based RPI to find new uses for Watson and deepen the systems' cognitive computing capabilities - for example by broadening the volume, types, and sources of data Watson can draw upon to answer questions.
Aquiring significant fame as the IBM innovation that beat Jeopardy!'s all-time champions, Watson has a unique ability to understand the subtle nuances of human language, sift through vast amounts of data, and provide evidence-based answers to its human users' questions. Currently, Watson's fact-finding prowess is being applied to crucial fields, such as healthcare, where IBM is collaborating with medical providers, hospitals and physicians to help doctors analyze a patient's history, symptoms and the latest news and medical literature to help physicians make faster, more accurate diagnoses.
RPI will extend Watson's reasoning and cognitive abilities to finance, information technology, business analytics, and other areas, IBM says. Until now, IBM has focused Watson mainly on healthcare and finance.
"Access to the Watson system will enable new research in cognitive computing as it relates to a diverse range of scientific and engineering fields, and the experience of working on Watson will give our students an advantage as they compete for the best jobs in Big Data, analytics, and cognitive computing," said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson.
The Watson system at Rensselaer is set to have 15 terabytes of hard disk storage, roughly the same amount of information as its Jeopardy! predecessor, and will allow 20 users to access the system at once.
While the project will advance cognitive computing in itself, it also has the important role of increasing the professional capabilities of students and researchers working with it. Gartner, Inc. estimates that 1.9 million Big Data jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2015. This workforce - which is in high demand today - will require professionals who understand how to develop and harness data-crunching technologies such as Watson, and put them to use for solving the most pressing of business and societal needs.
As part of a Shared University Research (SUR) Award granted by IBM Research, IBM will provide Rensselaer with Watson hardware, software and training. The ability to use Watson to answer complex questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence has enormous potential to help improve decision making across a variety of industries from health care, to retail, telecommunications and financial services, IBM says.
Several key members of IBM's Watson project team are actually graduates of RPI, which was one of eight universities that worked with IBM in 2011 on the development of open architecture that enabled researchers to collaborate on the underlying QA capabilities that help to power Watson.