IBM Broadens Watson Adoption With Education Apps, Bots

IBM has introduced Watson into the online education market in a deal with Pearson, while others are using Watson Virtual Agent to streamline business operations.

IBM Watson

LAS VEGAS—IBM continues to field questions about the adoption of its Watson cognitive computing system and just how much the technology is adding to the company's bottom line.

At its World of Watson conference here, IBM didn't go so far as to provide specific numbers on how much Watson has meant to the IBM company's sales, but it did provide more detail on adoption, as companies including Pearson, Staples and Autodesk adopt Watson.

IBM said it is collaborating with Pearson, a provider of educational courseware and assessment, to bring Watson cognitive capabilities to both college students and educators. The combination of Watson's cognitive capabilities and Pearson's digital learning products can give students a more immersive learning experience with their college courses, the company said. Students will be able to ask questions in natural language just as they would with a professor.

During the dialogue with a student, Watson constantly assesses his or her responses and guides the student to a better understanding of a particular topic. Throughout the learning process, Watson will help students by providing them with hints, feedback, explanations and common misconceptions. IBM plans to integrate Watson with Pearson's adaptive courseware platform for a variety of subjects including economics, marketing and psychology.

Meanwhile, Staples and Autodesk are embracing Watson conversational technologies to help streamline business operations. Staples plans to embed Watson in its "Easy System" and Autodesk is building a chatbot for customers to resolve issues more quickly.

The Watson-based Pearson system will provide instructors with insights about how well students are learning, flagging students who need additional help.

"With Watson and this incredible collaboration with Pearson, we are changing the way college students learn," said Harriet Green, IBM's general manager of Watson IoT, Cognitive Engagement & Education, in a statement. "The idea of having a built-in study partner to help tackle the challenging questions college students get stuck on is amazing. Our goal is for college students to feel empowered, improve study performance and assist educators with breakthrough academic content."

IBM's partnership with Pearson could have wide-ranging implications, as Person reaches a broad number of students and education professionals. According to Pearson, the company reaches 75 million students of all ages around the world across its range of services including books, software, English language teaching, assessment and qualifications and online learning. In the U.S. college sector, Pearson reaches 13 million students per year with digital tools and content, the company said.

"I like the accessibility, mastery, reading and learning part of it. I can't be available 24 hours a day," said Sherry Grosso, professor of Economics at the University of South Carolina, Sumter, in a statement.

"To think that when I'm reading, I could just say, 'Watson, can you explain this to me a little bit more?' That would be great. It would be nice to know that it's there," said Shadi Rum, a Saint Petersburg College student and aspiring nurse, also in a statement.

Digital learning is one of many tools available to students to accelerate their learning. Yet, it is a potent tool to complement lectures and lab work.

"Digital learning opens up exciting new possibilities to improve access and outcomes in education," said Tim Bozik, president of global product at Pearson, in a statement. "Our partnership will use the power of Watson to help students stay engaged and deepen their learning, complete their degree and be better equipped for their careers. Teachers are the most important factor in delivering a great education. The partnership will support teachers by providing better digital tools and enabling personalized learning for their students."

IBM also is pushing the power of Watson into other markets. At World of Watson, the company introduced Watson Virtual Agent, a cognitive technology that enables developers to easily build conversational agents or bots. The technology enables developers to build and train bots from the cloud. Staples and Autodesk are two of the first customers to sign up.

"Our platform continues to evolve as we tap IBM's science and research capabilities to enhance our services," said David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson, in a statement. "IBM is advancing the technologies on the platform in the area of conversation, all with a mission of helping brands transform their customer experience, empowering users to create solutions that deepen engagement and facilitate stronger, more positive interactions."

Using the Watson Virtual Agent, Staples plans to offer an ordering interface for customers across its ecosystem—via the Staples Easy Button, through the app, over Facebook Messenger or with a Slackbot. The interface simplifies the customers' shopping experience by using it to reorder supplies, track shipments or chat about customer service needs.

Meanwhile, Autodesk plans to use Watson Virtual Agent to improve interaction with its customers as the company shifts to a fully subscription-based delivery model. Autodesk is integrating Otto, its digital concierge, with Watson to provide service, support and information to customers and partners.

In addition, The Weather Company, an IBM business, has used Watson Virtual Agent to create a bot for Facebook Messenger that serves up personalized weather content.