IBM commits $1bn to new Watson supercomputer division

Still from IBM video In 2011 IBM's Watson supercomputer beat human rivals in the Jeopardy TV quiz show

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Computing giant IBM has said it will invest $1bn (£608m) creating a new division for Watson, its Jeopardy-winning supercomputer.

Watson, named after former IBM president Thomas Watson, beat its human rivals in the US TV quiz show in 2011.

The investment includes a $100m fund to boost innovation around Watson-related developer apps.

The new division will be run by Michael Rhodin, former senior vice president of the company's software solutions group.

Watson aims to mimic how people think, using natural language capabilities and analytics, but can process vast amounts of information faster than the human brain.

IBM plans to farm out Watson's abilities to businesses and consumers via its cloud computing infrastructure, Softlayer.

Cognitive computing

The company said the investment comes in response to a growing demand for cognitive computing - a more intuitive, human-centric form of artificial intelligence that understands the nuances and complexities of language and can learn from experience and new evidence.

"We have reached the inflection point where the interest is overwhelming and we recognised we need to move faster," said Stephen Gold, vice president of Watson Business.

Jamie Popkin, of research firm Gartner, said: "I think [IBM has] developed something that takes us to the next step where information management needs to go."

It envisages a number of "powered by IBM Watson" assistive apps coming on to the market, such as Fluid's expert personal shopper and Welltok's personalised health plans.

Healthcare professionals are likely to access Watson's huge database when using diagnostic equipment linked wirelessly to smartphones and other mobile devices, experts believe.

Investment bank Credit Agricole has predicted that Watson spin-offs could account for more than 12% of IBM's total revenue by 2018.

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