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?