IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system is finding its way into the classroom at some of the nation’s top technology-oriented educational institutions.
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.
IBM’s Watson Gains Presence at Top Technical Universities
Students who take the courses will begin by learning about Watson and its underlying technologies, including natural language processing and machine learning. Soon after, students will also learn that their syllabus quickly transitions from textbooks and discussions to hands-on engagement with Watson, itself.
Course sections include building ideas for cognitive innovation, fueling Watson’s knowledge with data, creating cognitive apps in the cloud and developing entrepreneurial know-how. At each school, the course will allow students to discuss and choose a data-intensive industry, such as retail, travel or healthcare, which they believe is ripe for cognitive computing. In this stage, students will form into teams and design ideas for new online or mobile applications, which use Watson’s intelligence to provide expert advice for users in their chosen industries.
Teams will learn how to train Watson to adapt to different domains. And they will create and test prototype apps in the Watson Developer Cloud, using browser-based tools and Watson’s API. Then in the course’s final section, professors will guide students to think like high-tech entrepreneurs. Once their prototypes are ready, the student teams will build business plans for how their apps could thrive as market-ready solutions.
“Watson represents a new departure for computing and for society,” Chesney said. “Cognitive machines are capable of learning, reasoning and interacting with people in ways that are more natural to us. I’m just beginning to learn what Watson can do, but I understand that it’s being adapted to assist people in a variety of situations—from physicians making treatment decisions to people shopping for camping equipment online. I believe that Watson’s ability to help people navigate through complexities has great potential for people with disabilities. If we can match it up with the right challenge, then magic can happen.”
This educational move is another milestone in IBM’s strategy to fuel an ecosystem of innovators who will help make cognitive computing the new standard of computing. In November 2013, IBM announced Watson as an application development platform in the cloud. Today, nearly 2,000 individuals and organizations – ranging from start-ups and VC-backed companies to established players — have contacted IBM to share ideas for building cognitive applications that redefine how businesses and consumers make decisions. IBM also recently announced its intention to open Watson to corporate developers, to advance a new generation of apps infused with Watson’s capabilities.
“By putting Watson in the hands of tomorrow’s innovators, we are unleashing the creativity of the academic community into a fast-growing ecosystem of partners who are building transformative cognitive computing applications,” said Michael Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. “This is how we will make cognitive the new standard of computing across the globe: by inspiring all catalysts of innovation, from university campuses to start-up offices, to take Watson’s capabilities and create apps that solve major challenges.”