IBM, SoftBank Team to Take Watson to Japan

IBM and SoftBank have teamed to deliver IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology to the technology-thirsty Japanese market.

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IBM announced an agreement with SoftBank Telecom Corp to bring IBM’s Watson cognitive computing technology to Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and second-largest technology market.

The partnership, which involves training Watson to understand Japanese, represents a major milestone in IBM's efforts to accelerate the adoption of cognitive computing and SoftBank’s work to transform Japanese businesses and society.

The goal of the collaboration is to bring new Watson-powered apps and services to market in the region. To do this, IBM and SoftBank will establish a broad local ecosystem of partners, entrepreneurs, and app developers who will apply Watson in new and innovative ways.

“The partnership with SoftBank, an industry pioneer, will bring new Watson capabilities to organizations in one of the most innovative parts of the world,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. “Watson’s technology, which analyzes large volumes of data, and can understand and answer complex questions posed in natural language, is in harmony with SoftBank Group's corporate mission of ‘Information Revolution - Happiness for Everyone,’” said Ken Miyauchi, representative director and chief operating officer at SoftBank, in a statement. “We believe the technology will be applied to a broad range of areas, from enterprise to consumer sectors, and create new value for people.”

As part of the collaboration, IBM and SoftBank intend to deliver new powered by Watson cloud-based services. The two organizations will initially target Japan’s education, banking, healthcare, insurance and retail industriesThe alliance builds upon an ongoing, joint technical collaboration around cognitive computing technology between SoftBank and IBM Research – Tokyo. Watson’s ability to understand Japanese is the result of more than two decades of research and development undertaken by IBM Research in the areas of natural language processing, both in Japanese and other non-European languages. Japanese uses thousands of characters, many of which can carry different meanings and pronunciations depending on the context of conversation, the relationships between participants, their age and gender. Like any major language, there are many unique idioms that must be fully understood for natural human interaction, IBM said.

“The Japanese language presented IBM researchers with a number of unique challenges to overcome, most notably the first time the Watson system has learned a language that relies on characters not shared by the Western alphabet," said Paul Yonamine, general manager of IBM Japan. “Watson will deliver innovation to the academic, government services, and various industries, while improving overall agility and decision making for our clients. SoftBank and IBM will apply the technology in multiple industries and business domains to usher in a new era of computing in Japan.”

To capture new and emerging opportunities, IBM and SoftBank will focus on expanding Watson’s knowledge by further training it in the Japanese language and various industry domains; developing localized APIs and development environments made available through the Watson Developer Cloud, and building and expanding the Watson ecosystem. SoftBank will be IBM’s preferred technology delivery partner for Watson solutions in Japan, where the technology could be embedded into various form factors such as desktop, tablets and mobile devices, as well as robots. Watson will be hosted by SoftBank’s data centers across the country.