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IBM Readies Watson for Your Pocket

IBM Readies Watson for Your Pocket
By Barry Levine

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Watson 2.0 is in the works, preparing to provide the back-end intelligence for the next generation of smartphones and tablets. IBM's VP of innovation explains that a huge part of the effort involves reducing the massive energy it takes to run Watson. But, one day, "you will have ready access to an incredible engine with a world knowledge base."
 


Get ready, Siri. Watson is preparing to eat your virtual lunch. IBM vice president of innovation Bernie Meyerson, in a recent interview with Bloomberg News, said that his company is working to turn the Jeopardy-winning intelligent agent into a voice agent for smartphones. Imagine, for example, Apple's Siri on steroids.

Watson -- the supercomputer with a human persona -- hasn't exactly been slouching since 'his' history-making victory against human opponents on Jeopardy. That 2011 multi-week, TV gameshow gig required him to learn, understand and master a wide variety of subjects.

Watson's workday currently includes financial analysis for Citigroup and analysis of cancer-related data for Wellpoint healthcare, as well as projects in telecommunications and other data-intensive fields.

Watson 2.0

Meyerson said that Watson 2.0 is in the works, being prepared to provide the back-end intelligence for smartphones and tablets. He told Bloomberg that the energy "it takes to make Watson work is dropping down like a stone," and he predicted that, "one day, you will have ready access to an incredible engine with a world knowledge base."

Currently, Watson is rather, shall we say, over-sized. He runs on 10 racks of IBM Power 750 servers in the company's facilities at Yorktown Heights, New York, which together equal 6,000 desktop machines of processing power.

Like Apple's Siri, which utilizes the Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine, inquiries on a Watson-enabled smartphone would be sent for processing to Watson on the back-end at an IBM facility. Even so, the power efficiency currently required to conduct searches and return useful responses is not yet good enough to make it feasible.

More Senses

Watson also currently has a substantial learning curve, in that his ability to learn required knowledge takes a while. For instance, it is taking him about two years to come up to speed on cancer research for his medical work.

There is also the issue of giving Watson more senses. In addition to boosting his voice recognition capabilities, IBM wants to give Watson image recognition capabilities.

With both senses, a smartphone user could not only make a verbal request, but could also hold up the smartphone's lens and request that Watson answer some question about the object or landscape viewed.

Another distinct possibility is that IBM could combine Siri with Watson's current employment as a medical expert. In this scenario, a user could verbally describe, or possibly even photograph or videotape, the condition in question, and Watson could act as a medical expert. Watson could potentially also have access to the person's medical records, and might present expert opinion in lieu of, or in conjunction with, a live doctor.

Meanwhile, Apple is not letting Siri sit still. For instance, a patent application filed in 2010 and made public in January, envisions voice-controlled e-commerce via Siri, and use of Siri as part of a recommendation engine, as an assistant for automated teller machines, and as a controller for home security devices.
 

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