IBM's Watson Gains Presence at Top Technical Universities

IBM is taking its Watson cognitive computing system into the curricula of seven of the nation's top technical universities.

IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system is finding its way into the classroom at some of the nation’s top technology-oriented educational institutions.

Big Blue announced that it is partnering with some of the country’s leading technology universities to launch cognitive computing courses that give students access via the cloud to Watson.

Enrollment is now open for fall 2014 cognitive computing courses at Carnegie Mellon University, New York University (NYU), The Ohio State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan and the University of Texas in Austin.

Co-designed by the IBM Watson Group and leading academic experts in fields such as artificial intelligence and computer science, the courses will empower students with the technical knowledge and hands-on learning required to develop new cognitive computing applications fueled by Watson’s intelligence.

Enrolled students will form a business team and together they will have access to their Watson instance via the Watson Developer Cloud. As a classroom, they will select an industry to focus on, such as retail, travel or health care, and then will work as a team to ingest relevant data into Watson and train it. Ultimately, the students will break into teams and develop prototype apps and a business plan based on their Watson industry of choice.

“All of the courses are designed to be hands-on and project-based, like mine at Michigan. Each class will get access to version of Watson delivered as a cloud service,” said David Chesney, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, in a post on IBM’s “Building a Smarter Planet” blog. “Classmates will split up into teams, identify uses for Watson, develop apps and also write business plans—as if they’re entrepreneurs creating startups. Think of it as Silicon Valley in the classroom.”

For example, IBM said, in the retail domain questions can focus on: "How can Watson be applied to personalize consumer shopping experience in the travel industry” or "What changes would be applied to help consumers target their next vacation based on their experiences and interests?” As a result, each student will gain the perspective and vision of a technology entrepreneur who can transform industries and professions with cloud-delivered expert advisers that think, learn and discover valuable insights from massive amounts of data.

The initiative is part of an ongoing effort to expand and strengthen student skills and understanding of big data and analytics in order to meet the growing demand for highly skilled analytics workers. IBM has been hosting Watson Case Competitions over the past year, giving students a glimpse into the promise Watson holds to transform industry and professions.

According to the Gartner research firm, smart machines will be the most disruptive change ever brought about by IT, and can make people more effective, empowering them to do "the impossible." Building on the 4.4 million IT jobs Gartner predicts will be created to support big data by 2015, the seven universities will educate a new generation of innovators who can bring to life this new dynamic of people and machines working together to solve pressing industry and societal challenges.