The answer-rich supercomputer that had TV quiz show Jeopardy viewers dropping jaws in 2011 for its ability to beat human players made Thursday's headlines in a new direction. Big Blue is opening Watson up to developers via the cloud.
Developers will be able to create applications that draw on Watson's formidable data-crunching capabilities. Developers who take the plunge can look forward to incorporating Watson’s ability to understand natural language and provide answers by using Big Blue's "IBM Watson Developers Cloud.“
How does the plan actually shake out? IBM did not offer pricing details for the program but what is clear is that IBM is launching the IBM Watson Developers Cloud to help developers jump-start applications powered by Watson's smarts. The IBM Watson Developers Cloud will give application providers, whether just starting out or established, developer resources that include a toolkit, educational materials and access to Watson's application programming interface.
App providers will also have the option to access the "IBM Watson Content Store," featuring third-party content.
A New Cognitive Era
In bringing applications to market, according to the Thursday announcement, IBM will offer a platform for testing, training and deploying Watson-powered apps. "Once the app is refined and ready, app providers ranging from start-ups to established businesses can market their apps to business customers and consumers," said IBM.
Given Watson's capabilities to understand the nuances of human language and uncover answers, one cannot ignore the business potential of the announcement. Offering Watson as a development platform may benefit software developers as well as consumers looking for answers and advice.
Should Watson-powered apps improve decision making across industries, there will be less business risks of delivering wrong answers leading to bad decisions. The full potential is something that will emerge through IBM and partners. Michael Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Software Solutions Group, called the Watson move a "bold step to advance the new era of cognitive computing."
Three business partners have already developed early versions of Watson-powered apps, targeted to enter the market next year, according to IBM.
Three Partners To Watch
Fluid builds successful online shopping experiences for retailers to drive customers, and will launch a knowledgeable on-demand associate. The "Fluid Expert Personal Shopper" will be powered by IBM Watson.
MD Buyline is in the business of supply-chain solutions for hospitals and healthcare systems. The company is developing an app to allow clinical and financial users to make real-time decisions about medical device purchases. Users of Hippocrates powered by Watson will get a research assistant that can draw on evidence-based recommendations from a wealth of data. That means medical organizations can make sound decisions for the benefit of doctors and patients.
Welltok is a business focused on health management, which is developing an app that will create health paths for consumers. The personalized itineraries, sponsored by health plans, health systems and health retailers, will include content and condition-management programs, where users will be rewarded for engaging in healthy behaviors. "CafeWell Concierge" powered by Watson is to enable consumers to ask their own questions or choose from a list of health-related questions. Consumers will receive real-time responses.
"The significance here is that IBM will enable other companies, large and small, to embed access to Watson into their products and services, or better yet, to build applications on top of it," said Mohamad Makhzoumi, Partner at New Enterprise Associates and board member at Welltok. "This could bring about a paradigm shift not only in how people interact with computers, but in how we live our lives."
Frost & Sullivan recently recognized IBM Watson with the 2013 North America Award for New Product Innovation. Gartner cited IBM Watson in its Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2014.
Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the cognitive technology was developed in IBM's Research Labs. "Watson can process information similar to the way people think," according to IBM, "representing a significant shift in the ability for organizations to quickly analyze, understand and respond to vast amounts of big data."