January 13, 2015 | Written by: Bin (Ben) Cao
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By Lauren Urke and Ben Cao
The following (imagined) conversation with IBM Watson took place recently with Lauren Urke and Ben Cao posing some tough questions to the darling of the cognitive computing landscape:
Watson, are you planning to take over the world?
Taking over the world is currently not on my roadmap; however, I am planning on making the world a smarter place to live. Most people think of me as the super computer that won Jeopardy! a couple years ago. They then imagine that I am this brilliant computer that could assume global power in the near future. So what am I, really? I am not a person, nor even a computer with a personality. I am a cognitive computing technology that can be taught how to solve specific problems, such as answering questions or creating summaries of data. The key is that I can “understand” natural language; unlike most computer programs, I do not need information to be in tables or databases. But we will get to more of that later.
Since my victory on Jeopardy!, IBM has expanded me from a question-answering program to a cognitive system that encompasses various products. I am now helping IBM in areas such as the public sector, healthcare, finance, retai and research. For example, I am learning from Memorial Sloan Kettering how to ingest patient case histories, physician’s notes and medical research in order to help suggest treatment plans for cancer patients all over the world. And my Watson Discovery Advisor helps researchers gather and synthesize large amounts of data, allowing them to spend more time on things computers cannot do.
Now that we’ve got that straightened out, how do you actually work?
I am advancing and combining technologies to usher in a new era of cognitive computing. I can process natural language more like a human would, which allows me to use a wealth of information that has previously been incomprehensible to computers. I can then generate hypotheses based on evidence that I have processed, and can even communicate how confident I am about my answers. Finally, I learn from my experiences, becoming more accurate from both successes and mistakes.
Poke around on my site for more detailed information about me!
So Watson, what are you working on now?
IBM is continuing to expand its partnerships with companies that can benefit from my solutions. But IBM has recognized that I have the potential to transform many industries and help more companies than they can individually partner with. To that end, IBM is prepping me for release as a platform, so that developers can build upon the Watson technologies to create their own products.
Currently, the Watson Ecosystem is accepting applications from companies that want to embed my abilities into their products. In the future, the Watson platform will hopefully be available to all interested developers.
What do you think about the cloud? Are you in?
With the cloud, applications are constantly available to anyone, anywhere. The developer doesn’t need to worry about storage space, processing speed or access to the ingested libraries of information that make me intelligent. In order to make me accessible to people around the world, I will be hosted entirely within the cloud. The data storage, question processing and information ingestion will all take place on my servers. In the future, I will be released on IBM Bluemix, an open-source, cloud-based platform for creating apps. To learn more about this platform, take a peek at this blog post by Hao Zhang.
On Bluemix, developers will be able to combine the numerous technologies that I enable, such as question-answer, natural language processing, analytics or annotation, to customize their own Watson application.
This leaves the developer time to spend on creating an application on top of the first new cognitive computing system resource, me—Watson. Using the BlueMix cloud platform, you can employ one of my many services such as visual analytics, which allows you to make sense of big data. Thanks to the cloud, you can develop smarter applications with little overhead in a matter of hours.
Thank you for all your questions. Due to our time constraints, I will have to stop here. If you have additional questions, talk to Lauren or Ben on Twitter @laurenurke and @mrbencao.