IBM Takes Watson to Harvard, MIT

IBM took its Watson question-answering computer system to Harvard Business School and MIT's Sloan School of Management as part of a symposium on the future of technology in business.

IBM is bringing Watson to school.

IBM on Oct. 31 conducted a Watson symposium with Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management to highlight the innovation IBM has put into its Watson question-answer computer system and to look at the future of technology in business.

The event brought together some of the brightest academic minds to collaborate on the use of advanced analytics, like those powering Watson, to transform the way the world does business. As part of the symposium, teams of students from HBS and MIT Sloan School of Management tested their skills in a demonstration of IBM Watson's question-answer (QA) capabilities in an exhibition game of the television quiz show Jeopardy!

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is a computing system created by IBM scientists that understands the meaning and context of human language, can analyze data and learn correlations between data. The technology introduces the capability to sift through an equivalent of about 1 million books or roughly 200 million pages of data to provide instant answers to questions posed to it.

Meanwhile, IBM officials said the commercialization of Watson technology means that today's students will require new skills when they enter the job market. As future leaders in a wide range of industries and entrepreneurial ventures, students will need to combine business skills and knowledge with advanced analytical techniques to compete successfully in the world economy, IBM officials said.

For example, when applied to the banking and finance industry, Watson-like technologies can uncover hidden patterns in data that can rapidly identify market trends, and provide deep, integrated risk analysis. This provides financial services professionals a more accurate picture of their market positions, helping them find opportunities, better assess risk and hedge their financial exposures.

According to HBS Professor of Management Practice Willy Shih, "the symposium and demonstration match will expose our students to cutting-edge technology in deep analytics, an area of increasing importance in business applications, health care and the life sciences, enterprise knowledge management, finance, and anywhere there are vast amounts of unstructured data."

"Great technology companies like IBM are converting the seemingly impossible into reality these days, to the point that it's hard to keep up with all the digital innovations and their business implications," Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT, said in a statement. "So we thought it would be a good idea to devote a day to discussing them, and also to see them in action. We're going to spend the morning talking computer science and economics with the world's leading experts in these fields, then cheer our students on against Watson in the afternoon. I predict at least a second place finish for the MIT team."

By bringing its Watson technology to the university community, IBM aims to inspire the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to think about the possibilities of Watson technology and the skills they will need to take advantage of the opportunities Watson creates.

IBM said HBS and MIT Sloan School of Management are the first two business schools where IBM co-hosted a Watson symposium. A team of researchers from MIT led by Boris Katz, principal research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, contributed code to the question-answer capabilities in Watson. HBS' Professor Shih recently wrote an in-depth case study of Watson that will be used by MBA students in the school's required first-year course Technology and Operations Management.

"From business to health care, education and the government, the advanced analytics capabilities of IBM's Watson will transform how the world works," Bernard Meyerson, vice president of innovation and academic programs at IBM, said in a statement. "Our goal in demonstrating Watson's capabilities and sharing our insights from its development is to challenge the leaders of tomorrow to leverage this new capability in ways we've yet to imagine."

IBM said higher education institutions such as HBS and MIT Sloan School of Management benefit from the ability to work with companies to create curricula that incorporate real-world case studies and brings breakthrough technology like Watson into the classroom. Moreover, IBM's Academic Initiative brings technological advances, IBM scientists and executives to universities around the world to talk about how these innovations are transforming the way human beings work and live. The goal of this initiative is to engage and inspire students while teaching the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs the skills they need to build a smarter planet.