IBM's Watson Cognitive Computing System Spurs Big Data Competition at USC

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-03-12 Print this article Print

"Partnering with universities such as USC gives IBM a unique opportunity to tap into the minds of our next-generation of leaders, whose training, skills and ideas for changing the world are all forward-thinking and based on a desire to make a meaningful impact," Manoj Saxena, IBM general manager of Watson solutions, said in a statement. "These students see what Watson is doing right now and think—how else will cognitive computing impact my life and career in the years to come? To us, that's exactly the mindset that should be fueling IBM innovations, and the very reason we host Watson Academic Case Competitions."

Due to an overwhelming response from USC students seeking to participate in the Watson Academic Case Competition, students had to join a waiting list, once the 24-team maximum had been reached. One faculty sponsor, noting that the level of interest was unprecedented for a campus case competition, predicted registration could reach 500 next year.

"For USC students, the opportunity to share their own ideas with IBM on how to commercialize Watson is truly a unique experience," Ashish Soni, executive director of digital innovation and founding director of the Viterbi Student Innovation Institute at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said in a statement. "As educators, we're quite pleased to see students getting excited about cognitive computing innovation, because we know there's a business demand for the types of skills they get to showcase in Watson Case Competitions."

Employers are seeking job candidates who can analyze and build strategy around big data, or the 2.5 quintillion bytes of information gleaned from sensors, mobile devices, online transactions and social networks, to name just a few sources, IBM said. A recent Gartner report estimates that 1.9 million big data jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2015.

The Watson Case Competition at USC, the third in a series hosted by IBM, is the latest example of IBM's work with academia to advance interest among students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula that will lead to high-impact, high-value careers. The competition is in keeping with IBM's Academic Initiative, which delivers course work, case studies and curricula to more than 6,000 universities and 30,000 faculty members worldwide to help students prepare for high-value future job opportunities.

IBM worked closely with academic institutions during the development and introduction of Watson. Eight leading universities around the world participated in the development phase of the system, and more than 10,000 students watched Watson triumph on the "Jeopardy" quiz show in February 2011. Most recently, IBM announced it would provide a modified version of an IBM Watson system to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the first university to receive such a system that will enable faculty and students to conduct leading-edge research.

The competition at USC marks the latest collaboration between the university and IBM. Over the last two years, students at the school's Annenberg Innovation Lab have been using big data analytics technologies to conduct social sentiment analyses and determine public engagement on topics such as sports, film, retail and fashion.


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