IBM's Watson Supercomputer Spreads Its Wings

The cognitive computing superstar has put its powers to work by helping people discover new ideas, recipes, and networking connections.

When Armonk-based IBM launched its cognitive computing system, Watson, in 2011, the computer made its debut on the quiz show Jeopardy!—famously beating two of the show’s human champions and transforming Watson into an instant celebrity.

In the years since, the computer has kept busy, putting its cognitive powers to work in a variety of fields. It’s all part of IBM’s mission to use cognitive computing to help people discover new ideas, and it has huge sales potential, according to John Kelly, the company’s senior vice president for solutions portfolio and research. He recently told Crain’s New York Business that IBM’s Watson unit is the fastest-growing part of the company’s analytics business and that it could reach $1 billion in sales in the near-term. Here are a few examples of what the new Watson does:

Chef Watson

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Watson has been hanging out in the kitchen with Bon Appétit magazine, collaborating on an app called Chef Watson with Bon Appétit, which aims to help home chefs spice things up at mealtime.

How does it work? After analyzing more than 10,000 recipes from Bon Appétit, Chef Watson is able to find patterns in the data (such as “Italian food” or “Asian dishes”) and has learned to suggest up to four different ingredients that work together. And, Chef Watson allows users to easily switch out ingredients for preference and taste. “We’re trying to show the role that cognitive technology can play.

Together, the human and computer [can] discover more interesting results,” explains Steven Abrams, distinguished engineer and director at Watson Life. IBM is working to put this sort of cognitive computing to work in other areas such as helping scientists in discovering new alloys or plastics, and fighting cancer. 

Watson Ecosystem 

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IBM wants to bring Watson to all corners of the globe. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), it has paired up with Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Development Company—a regional leader in investment and development—to create a local “ecosystem” of entrepreneurs, startups, partners, and app developers that will apply Watson in innovative ways.

This collaboration will provide Watson’s cognitive computing services on a cloud-based system, to healthcare, retail, education, banking, and finance organizations throughout the MENA area. Users can seamlessly interact with this ecosystem, as it is available on six continents, in 26 countries, 20 industries, and four languages. 

Watson Health

Watson is learning to “see.” (Yes, you read that correctly.) In order to add visual capabilities to Watson’s repertoire (it currently processes words, text, and voice), IBM is acquiring Merge Healthcare, which provides medical image handling and processing systems to radiology, cardiology, orthopedics eye care, and other medical fields.

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The idea is for Watson to help medical professionals analyze X-rays, angiograms, electrocardiograms, and other images, to spot anomalies and identify treatment options. Watson’s cognitive computing power will be able to allow doctors and patients to make better-informed decisions on treatments and procedures.

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