28 Oct 2014
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Siri who? Meet Watson - IBM's cognitive computing system

By Shannon Williams

A big talking point of this year’s Westcon event was IBM’s cognitive computing system, otherwise known as Watson.

Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, originally designed and built to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy.

IBM says that traditional computing systems, which are only capable of doing what they were originally programmed to do, cannot keep up with Big Data in constant motion. In contrast, Watson learns from the vast quantities of information it ingests, and will change the nature of computing.

Through repeated use, Watson literally gets smarter by tracking feedback from its users and learning from both successes and failures.

Over the last three years Watson has matured into a multifaceted business platform, enabled globally via the cloud.

Jason Leonard, IBM Asia Pacific Watson Business Unit Executive says that unlike Google and Siri, Watson focuses on curated information rather than garbage from the internet.

Where Siri waits for a user to ask a question and then searches the internet for an answer, Watson tries to engage in a conversation and interact with the user, instead of searching the internet. Watson focuses on research and tries to offer new lines of inquiry.

Watson can read and understand natural language, which is important in analysing unstructured data that make up as much as 80 percent of the data we see today.

Leonard says Watson offers more tailored information using someone’s own information stored on their computer to give more personalised answers.

IBM hopes to transform industries and professions in the way they offer customer services. Instead of customers searching pages and pages of a company’s website, they’ll be able to click on a Watson icon and get the answers they need more quickly.

Watson aims to create a better customer service option and is aimed at large organisation who have a lot of customers. It aims to give businesses an alternative to call centres or pre-recorded messages – instead, their customers can talk to Watson.

Watson’s technology could be the start of moving away from a keyword-based search to a more conversational, meaningful interaction between humans and computers.

Watson is already being used in a number of industries across the world, including Deacon University in Melbourne, healthcare providers in the U.S, and the Singapore Government recently announced they will make use of Watson's artificial intelligence to learn from interactions with users, and improve engagement for areas such as income tax, employment and work pass applications.

Leonard says telcos, banking and insurance organisations, medical and health providers, and the government sector (including police) are the types of industries we can be expecting to use Watson.

He says Watson is not currently in New Zealand but we can expect it to be in use here within a year.

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