As IBM moves its Watson cognitive computing technology into its new home in New York City’s Silicon Alley, the company announced significant milestones fueling adoption of Watson and cognitive computing cloud capabilities on a global scale.
IBM describes Watson as a groundbreaking platform that represents a new era of computing based on its ability to interact in natural language, process vast amounts of big data to uncover patterns and insights, and learn from each interaction.
“Watson is bringing forward a new era of computing enabling organizations around the globe to launch new businesses, redefine markets and transform industries,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. “Watson is fueling a new market and ecosystem of clients, partners, developers, venture capitalists, universities and students. The next great innovations will come from people who are able to make connections that others don’t see, and Watson is making that possible.”
IBM is holding a ceremony Oct. 8 in NYC to announce the opening of the Watson Group’s global headquarters, at 51 Astor Place in New York City’s Silicon Alley. The Watson headquarters will serve as a home base for more than 600 IBM Watson employees, just part of the more than 2,000 IBMers dedicated to Watson worldwide. In addition to a sizable employee presence, IBM is opening its doors to area developers and entrepreneurs, hosting industry workshops, seminars and networking opportunities to build enthusiasm and awareness among the New York City startup community.
“We really feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum coming here as we move into the next phase and into the new headquarters,” Rhodin told eWEEK in an interview. “This is a really vibrant area of New York City. Facebook’s across the street. Google’s a few blocks away. Twitter’s a few blocks away. New York University is right down the street, and Cooper Union faces my office. So it’s a pretty cool area. And we think because of our proximity to the startup communities in New York City, we are going to be able to nourish and foster more of these companies building their applications on the Watson platform.”
For entrepreneurs and startups, the Watson Group’s Silicon Alley headquarters will provide technology, tools and talent to create and launch new products and businesses based on Watson’s cloud-delivered cognitive intelligence. IBM will lead its cognitive computing innovation from the new global headquarters, collaborating with its five new Watson client experience centers around the world.
An interactive client experience lab will serve as a place for IBM clients to experience Watson and learn how it can help transform their businesses. In addition, the headquarters will host a design lab for continuously enhancing the user experience for cognitive applications and services used by IBM clients and partners. Workshops and seminars on topics such as development skills, as well as networking opportunities, will allow the community to experience firsthand how to bring new innovations to market. These events will also build upon IBM’s academic partnerships to prepare university students for careers in cognitive computing, big data and analytics. This includes Watson-inspired business and technical challenges, new curricula, faculty grants and internships.
“Over the summer we announced that universities were going to start teaching kids how to program to Watson, and 10 major universities in North America are now into their first semester of a Watson class that will fuel more demand as those students graduate and want to do things and build their own companies around it,” Rhodin said.
The New York tech industry continues to add jobs at a rapid pace, generating four times more jobs than any other industry from 2009-2013. IBM is committed to building on that momentum by partnering with local colleges and universities to equip students with the skills they’ll need to blaze their own trails in the cognitive computing marketplace. This fall, students at New York University are among the first nationally to take advantage of a cognitive computing curriculum, while City University of New York (CUNY) students are participating in a semester-long Watson Case Competition, working to develop new applications based on Watson technology.
As clients adopt Watson globally, having skills focused on cognitive computing to meet local client and partner needs is critical, Big Blue officials said. IBM is announcing the opening of the first five Watson Client Experience Centers, co-located with IBM Research and Design teams, to provide the support and skills needed to fully adopt the Watson cognitive platform. The initial new centers will be located in Dublin, Ireland; London; Melbourne, Australia; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Singapore.
IBM Opens Watson Headquarters in NYC Amid New Cognitive Milestones
IBM is indeed taking Watson global, with Watson client engagements across six continents and more than 25 countries, including South Africa, Australia, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Canada and the United States. Moreover, Watson is learning Spanish through a new partnership with Spain’s CaixaBank, Rhodin said. “And in the labs we’ve started working on a couple other languages as well,” he added.
Spain’s CaixaBank and IBM are teaming up to develop a cognitive system built on Watson to understand Spanish. With the aim of providing best-in-class customer service, CaixaBank is a pioneer in the banking industry, including early deployment of IBM PCs at bank branches, the creation of a pioneering contactless ATM and an app store for financial applications launched by a bank. This announcement is another milestone for CaixaBank—the first organization worldwide working with IBM to teach Spanish to Watson. This agreement has been developed under a collaboration framework between the Digital Innovation Center of CaixaBank and IBM.
Meanwhile, IBM said in the next few weeks, ANZ Bank in Australia will be unveiling a new Watson Engagement Advisor Tool in its Sydney “Grow” center and will also launch it more broadly to more than 400 financial planners. By opening up the Watson tool to the external environment, ANZ will be able to observe the types of questions coming from both customers and financial advisers in order to continue enhancing Watson’s capabilities and insights.
ANZ’s goal for Watson is to enable its financial advice team to deliver an improved advice process, making it shorter and more efficient for the customer to receive a statement of financial advice—from weeks to just one session. The initial work of Watson is in the area of insurance and protection, and it will soon be expanded to cover the full wealth strategy, including superannuation and investments, IBM said.
The Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand plans to use Watson to improve the quality of cancer care at its medical center in Bangkok and case evaluations at referral offices in 16 countries on four continents. In a five-year commitment, Bumrungrad will use IBM Watson for oncology, developed with Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), one of the world’s leading cancer centers. The system will help Bumrungrad doctors plan the most effective treatments for cancer patients based on each patient’s profile, medical evidence, published research and the extensive clinical expertise of MSK. Watson will analyze vast quantities of this information and present a summary of findings relevant to each patient case, including treatment options based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines.
Also, Australia’s Deakin University will tap the power of Watson to develop an online student engagement adviser. The student adviser application will deliver online access via the Web and mobile devices for the university’s 50,000 students. Ultimately, the adviser will also assist future students and staff working with students on everything from the simplest questions to tailored, personalized responses.
Over the coming months, Watson will consume thousands of pages of Deakin’s unstructured data contained in documents, presentations, brochures and online to ensure users receive consistent, high-quality responses to the thousands of queries. The questions received will represent a broad range of topics, such as: “What do I need to enroll?” “What social activities are available at Deakin?” “Where do I find the biology building?” and “What are the computing requirements for my course?” Over time, students who ask Watson a question can expect tailored information, personalized advice and information based on their individual profiles.
IBM Opens Watson Headquarters in NYC Amid New Cognitive Milestones
And in another key global example, South Africa’s Metropolitan Health, in the first commercial application of Watson on the African continent, is using Watson to transform customer health advisory services for its 3 million customers. Metropolitan Health will provide personalized, outcome-based health and wellness services to citizens across South Africa.
Using IBM’s Watson Engagement Advisor, Metropolitan Health’s client care agents can analyze the typically large volumes of complex unstructured and structured data, including product information and member profiles, so they can identify connections between customers’ needs and the growing volume of health and lifestyle knowledge. Watson helps these agents weigh various options available to members, enabling more effective decision-making and driving better health outcomes, IBM said.
Other notable uses of the Watson technology include the launch of WayBlazer. Entrepreneur Terry Jones, the founder of Travelocity and founding chairman of Kayak.com, is launching WayBlazer, a new travel company powered by Watson. WayBlazer uses the cognitive intellect of Watson to engage, learn and advise users through a visual and natural language interface to create the best travel experience. The Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau is using a prototype version of the new WayBlazer app to improve convention bookings, increase hotel bookings, and provide additional revenue streams from partner and affiliate marketing opportunities. IBM said.
Watson, according to IBM, is being used in a host of other environments, including the following:
- Red Ant (London) offers a retail sales trainer mobile app that lets store employees easily identify individual customers’ buying preferences by analyzing demographics, purchase history and wish lists, as well as product information, local pricing, customer reviews and tech specs. It uses voice or text input to enable a natural question-and-answer interaction against the wealth of information available within a retail business, including product information, copybooks, manuals, customer reviews and more.
- Sellpoints (Emeryville, Calif.) understands the relationships between consumer questions and products. For example, when a shopper searches for a product using natural language, Sellpoints’ Natural Selection app returns product results sorted by relevance to that unique individual.
- Findability Sciences (Waltham, Mass.) changes the way “good” is done by bringing a Watson app to the nonprofit sector to enable funders and donors to ask questions using natural language and receive answers instantaneously. This enables funders to make smarter investing decisions and better work to maximize existing investments to deliver the most impact.
- LifeLearn (Guelph, Ontario) is helping veterinarians provide better care for pets by empowering doctors with its mobile app that crowdsources data using simple Q&A to identify better treatments options.
- GenieMD (Pleasanton, Calif.) is a mobile platform that empowers patients to ask questions regarding health conditions, medications, etc., using conversational, natural language. Watson understands and can learn from the questions and answers, and provides health recommendations to the patients.
- SparkCognition (Austin, Texas), a cognitive security company, is deploying Watson to assist it in thinking like a security expert so it can discover potential threats that may not even yet exist by making queries into an organization’s big data.
IBM Watson represents a new era of computing in which apps and systems interact with human users more naturally, augment our knowledge with big data insight, and learn to improve how they assist us, IBM said.
In January 2014, IBM launched the IBM Watson Group, a new business unit dedicated to developing and commercializing cloud-delivered cognitive advisers. The move signifies a strategic shift by IBM to deliver a new class of software, services and apps that think, improve by learning and discover insights from massive amounts of big data.
IBM is investing more than $1 billion in the Watson Group, focusing on research and development and bringing cloud-delivered cognitive applications and services to market. This includes $100 million earmarked for direct investment to support IBM’s ecosystem of startups and businesses building cognitive apps made with Watson.