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IBM Supercomputing

IBM Dumping $1 Billion Into New Watson Group 182

Nerval's Lobster writes "IBM believes its Watson supercomputing platform is much more than a gameshow-winning gimmick: its executives are betting very big that the software will fundamentally change how people and industries compute. In the beginning, IBM assigned 27 core researchers to the then-nascent Watson. Working diligently, those scientists and developers built a tough 'Jeopardy!' competitor. Encouraged by that success on live television, Big Blue devoted a larger team to commercializing the technology—a group it made a point of hiding in Austin, Texas, so its members could better focus on hardcore research. After years of experimentation, IBM is now prepping Watson to go truly mainstream. As part of that upgraded effort (which includes lots of hype-generating), IBM will devote a billion dollars and thousands of researchers to a dedicated Watson Group, based in New York City at 51 Astor Place. The company plans on pouring another $100 million into an equity fund for Watson's growing app ecosystem. If everything goes according to IBM's plan, Watson will help kick off what CEO Ginni Rometty refers to as a third era in computing. The 19th century saw the rise of a "tabulating" era: the birth of machines designed to count. In the latter half of the 20th century, developers and scientists initiated the 'programmable' era—resulting in PCs, mobile devices, and the Internet. The third (potential) era is 'cognitive,' in which computers become adept at understanding and solving, in a very human way, some of society's largest problems. But no matter how well Watson can read, understand and analyze, the platform will need to earn its keep. Will IBM's clients pay lots of money for all that cognitive power? Or will Watson ultimately prove an overhyped sideshow?"
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IBM Dumping $1 Billion Into New Watson Group

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  • I hope.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KliX ( 164895 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @03:18AM (#45914499)

    ..your city / state / whatever region, hasn't counted on call centres being a major source of employment, because that shit is going bye bye.


  • New York City? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 10, 2014 @03:19AM (#45914505)
    I guess they are going to turn Watson loose on the stock market and make their billion back in a nanosecond...
  • by HellCatF6 ( 1824178 ) <> on Friday January 10, 2014 @03:19AM (#45914507) Homepage

    Watson isn't about organizing information, it's about thinking enough to arrive at a conclusion.

    Even today, my 84 year old father has learned how to gather information off the web. A child learns to do it in minutes. Imagine what Watson will be able to glean in seconds.

    Finally, imagine Watson as a programmer. Optimum code - self debugging - as much documentation as you want - and perhaps the biggest asset - the ability to adjust the scope every time the customer changes their mind, without complaining.

    Skynet? No, I'm thinking more like Colossus, the Forbin Project.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @03:22AM (#45914517)

    It just might show the ultimate clue for computer intelligence: The ability to determine a personal gain and advantage from telling a lie.

  • Re:New York City? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @03:23AM (#45914521)

    What? All those brokers suddenly unemployed and having to start working for a living?

    The horror!

  • It's getting serious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @03:28AM (#45914529) Homepage

    IBM is spending a billion dollars on AI. That's serious. IBM usually succeeds at making what they set out to make.

  • by Camembert ( 2891457 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @05:00AM (#45914789)
    I recently read an article on Watson, on how hard it was to model medical knowledge in it (in one of the first commercial applications that is being created now). In essence this kind of modelling must happen for all potential applications, these are projects of significant effort. But, it is surely interesting how this more modern expert system technology is inching forward, even if I expect that it will be many years before we encounter a machine comparable to HAL.
  • by Lennie ( 16154 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @05:42AM (#45914861)

    Why do you think it's AI ? Sounds to me 'just' a 'big-data' application.

    As far as I've been able to determine it's just a cluster of machines running Apache Hadoop and some of their own software to shift through data:

    Watson's software was written in various languages, including Java, C++, and Prolog, and uses Apache Hadoop framework for distributed computing, Apache UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture) framework, IBM’s DeepQA software and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 operating system. According to IBM, "more than 100 different techniques are used to analyze natural language, identify sources, find and generate hypotheses, find and score evidence, and merge and rank hypotheses." []

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @05:51AM (#45914885) Homepage

    It's probably an entirely different branch of AI, but I think Watson is impressive enough as it is. We produce tons of information and knowledge, for example everything you learn from primary school to far into college or university already exists, if you finally make research to arrive at genuinely new knowledge you're one of the few. Most of us have more of a toolbox picking the most appropriate response to a challenge.

    Let's trying a gardening analogy, when the grass is tall you mow it. When there's a draught you water the lawn. When there's dog poop on the lawn you pick it up. If the soil is barren, you fertilize it. If there's leaves on the lawn you rake them away. If there's weeds growing on the lawn you cut them down. It's not revolutionary work but if you can use Watson to make a gardening robot take the appropriate action based on it's knowledge database it saves a human from doing it. Not that every little garden robot would run Watson of course, more like they're simple autonomous units which consult Watson when their garden is somehow not in the desired condition.

    Granted, it wouldn't be the ultimate AI but I'd love a "service robot" who'd put dirty dishes in the dish washer, put washed dishes in the shelves, do my laundry and ironing, vacuuming and dusting, prepare dinner, switch light bulbs, water the plants, basically one that'd pick up all the routine tasks most of us still do. And no, wives don't do that anymore ;) All of that should be entirely within Watson's capability if we could just pair it with good multi-purpose droid that can make it happen in real life. Imagine the "programming interface", you ask your droid to do a task in normal English, Watson interprets it, the droid executes it. Siri on steroids :)

  • by Capt.Albatross ( 1301561 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @08:35AM (#45915415)

    Why do you think it's AI ? Sounds to me 'just' a 'big-data' application.

    As far as I've been able to determine it's just a cluster of machines running Apache Hadoop and some of their own software to shift through data.

    These characterizations are not exactly wrong, but they are not useful. To discuss Watson in terms of its implementing technologies is to completely miss the point, as does dismissing it as a 'big-data app' (real AI, when it arrives, may well have 'big data' attributes.) The use of 'just' here is a misleading application of emphasis.

    I don't think Watson deserves to be called AI either, but it is impressive, nonetheless.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @08:40AM (#45915431)

    Watson is not AI. It is clever NLP, but basically just a fast, parallelized database with some learning capabilities. That does not mean it is useless, but it cannot do most things non-experts would expect from an AI and its application is limited to certain types of tasks. Simplified, what it can do is apply things it finds in "books" in standard-situations. To be fair, this is the level many (most?) humans never really exceed either.

    Also interestingly, when IBM representatives speak to experts, they never call Watson an AI. I have observed that several times now. So IBM does understand clearly what they have in Watson and what not.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @08:44AM (#45915443)

    The clever thing in Watson is that it has pretty good Natural Language Processing capabilities. This means input material does not need to be formalized for it, you can just dump it in. (Well, mostly...) It is basically a fast book learner, but cannot exceed what it finds in them. Still very useful, and many people never really exceed that skill level either, but definitely not AI.

    I have observed several demos of Watson to expert audiences by now and the word AI was never used by the presenters. IBM is not making any false claims here, at least not to expert audiences.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 10, 2014 @09:21AM (#45915579)

    As a teenager back in the 70's, I met Asimov at one of the Philcons. I told him "The Last Question" was one of my particular favorites of his stories. He replied that it was one of his favorites as well. (Still have that con badge with his autograph.)

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats