Watson Learns to Understand Korean Life and Language

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This week, IBM and SK Holdings & CC, a leading Korean IT services company, announced plans to introduce Watson cognitive services to Korea. The significance of this milestone agreement is two-fold. For SK Holdings & CC and Korean organizations, access to market-ready artificial intelligence services comes at a critical time of change and an increasing appetite for investment in innovation in this country.

Decades of innovation-led success in manufacturing and electronics products has become core to Korea’s identify, and so it’s no surprise that this passion for technology has spilled over into the life of the Korean consumer too.

The popularity of all things Korean from – fashion and video gaming to K-Pop music and food, known as Hallyu or Korean Wave – is fuelling consumer demand for digital services.

And, in a creative, tech-savvy market, access to cognitive-powered apps that offer deeper customer connections and differentiated experiences, has not come soon enough for many organizations.

With eight languages now part of Watson’s cognitive services skill set – English, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Arabic – the system’s learning capabilities have shifted into the next gear. Watson’s ability to learn and understand the Korean language shows just how far this technology has evolved.

Learning a language goes far beyond translation. Watson is trained to understand the cultural context of a word, sentence and nuances of unique idiomatic expression. With experienced gained from learning Japanese in partnership with Softbank last year, Watson is now learning languages at a faster rate. As Watson’s capability continues to grow, the system’s utility will also increase across industry domains.

For Watson, the process of learning a language is similar to learning about domains like medicine, engineering, law or marketing, for example. More than words, Watson needs to understand context and relationships and derive meaning through reasoning with evidence. Watson’s intelligence is very much determined by the quality of education or data received.

Like humans, the Watson system starts to learn by reading.

Watson will learn Korean by consuming roughly 10,000 sentences and deconstruct them in the form of diagrams that indicate syntax and semantic structure. This information will then be tested to fix errors and feed corrections back into the system so Watson can learn from its mistakes. And Watson never forgets, which is a skill that we humans do not posses.

Together IBM and SK Holdings will equip Watson to deliver cognitive-powered APIs to Korea’s entrepreneurs, startup community and developers who are hungry to create digital services for both the domestic and international market.

In a country home to many of world’s best professional online gamers, social media celebrities and eSports stars, Watson’s cognitive powered technology in the hands of Korea’s best and brightest innovators will be both exciting and entertaining.

* Bloomberg Innovation Index 2016, January 19, 2016.

Global Program Manager, Cloud Communications; Managing Editor, IBM THINK Blog

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