IBM seeks app developers to harness Watson

IBM's Watson

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IBM has challenged developers to come up with ways to get the vast brain of its supercomputer Watson on to the world's mobile phones.

Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language.

It also has access to 200 million pages of information, drawn from books, encyclopaedias and other databases.

Apps could include more advanced Siri-like voice recognition systems or tools that can accurately translate text.

"The power of Watson in the palm of your hand is a game-changing proposition, so we're calling on mobile developers around the world to start building cognitive computing apps infused with Watson's intelligence," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM Watson Group.

Medical help

The competition is the latest attempt from IBM to launch Watson as a viable business. It has invested $1bn (£601m) in the system and late last year announced that it would open it up to developers.

To date, more than 1,500 individuals and organisations have been in touch to suggest apps. Three intend to go to market this year, including an app to transform how consumers shop and one to help hospitals better procure devices.

The Watson Mobile Developer Challenge begins on 31 March when developers can submit ideas. Later in the year, IBM will select 25 finalists to turn their ideas into working software.

Other potential Watson-powered mobile apps could include medical ones to help doctors and patients sift through vast amounts of data.

Medical information doubles every five years and Watson can analyse vast amounts to allow doctors to offer patients more treatment options as well as help researchers make medical breakthroughs.

Already Watson is being used by doctors and nurses at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, to help make decisions about lung cancer treatment at the hospital.

According to IBM Watson's business chief Manoj Saxena, 90% of nurses who use Watson now follow its guidance.

In the field of education, IBM envisages teachers being able to tap into Watson to identify individual pupil's needs and offer bespoke learning packages for each child.

Trivia king
Watson playing Jeopardy Watson competed in and won Jeopardy in 2011

Watson has got smaller and faster over the years. What started as a system the size of a bedroom is now the size of three stacked pizza boxes. It is also available via the cloud, meaning it can be accessed from anywhere.

It can process 500 gigabytes of information - equivalent to a million books - every second.

And it has proved its abilities. In 2011 it appeared on the Jeopardy game show answering general knowledge questions, without being connected to the internet.

Pitted against the two biggest winners of the trivia quiz show, despite a few stumbles it eventually walked away with the $1m prize.

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