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IBM’s Watson Joins Research Team at Rensselaer



  John Kelly, M.S.’78, Ph.D.’80, senior vice president and director of IBM Research

At a packed-house event at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Jan. 30, IBM announced that it will provide a modified version of an IBM Watson system to Rensselaer, making it the first university to receive such a system. The arrival of the Watson system will enable new leading-edge research at Rensselaer, and afford faculty and students an opportunity to find new uses for Watson and deepen the system’s cognitive capabilities. The firsthand experience of working on the system will also better position Rensselaer students as future leaders in the areas of big data, analytics, and cognitive computing.

Known to many as the IBM innovation that beat Jeopardy!’s all-time champions, Watson has a unique ability to understand the subtle nuances of human language, sift through vast amounts of data, and provide evidence-based answers to its human users’ questions. Currently, Watson’s fact-finding prowess is being applied to crucial fields, such as healthcare, where IBM is collaborating with medical providers, hospitals and physicians to help doctors analyze a patient’s history, symptoms, and the latest news and medical literature to help physicians make faster, more accurate diagnoses. IBM is also working with financial institutions to help improve and simplify the banking experience.

The leadership of Rensselaer faculty in Web science, big data, artificial intelligence, and other research areas uniquely situates the university to help expand Watson’s abilities. Rensselaer faculty and students will seek to further sharpen Watson’s reasoning and cognitive abilities, while broadening the volume, types, and sources of data Watson can draw upon to answer questions. Additionally, Rensselaer researchers will look for ways to harness the power of Watson for driving new innovations in finance, information technology, business analytics, and other areas.


OK, so IBM's Watson supercomputer—you know, the one that was featured on the game show Jeopardy! in a man versus machine moment—is not Apple's Siri personal assistant. But the Troy, New York-based Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will receive the system all the same, thanks to a grant that allows the American private research university to pursue deeper research and development into big data, analytics, and cognitive computing. In return, Watson's brain gains more experience in the field.

—Andrew Nusca, ZDNet

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With 15 terabytes of hard disk storage,the Watson system at Rensselaer will store roughly the same amount of information as its Jeopardy! predecessor and will allow 20 users to access the system at once—creating an innovation hub for the Institute’s New York campus. Along with faculty researchers and graduate students, undergraduate students will have opportunities to work directly with the Watson system. This experience will help prepare Rensselaer students for future high-impact, high-value careers in analytics, cognitive computing, and related fields.

Underscoring the value of the partnership between IBM and Rensselaer, Gartner Inc. estimates that 1.9 million big data jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2015. This workforce—which is in high demand today—will require professionals who understand how to develop and harness data-crunching technologies such as Watson, and put them to use for solving the most pressing of business and societal needs.

“The entire Rensselaer community joins me in thanking IBM for enabling us to receive and welcome Watson technology to Rensselaer. The system will be an unprecedented platform to help students and faculty meet the challenge of our university’s motto, ‘Why Not Change the World?’” said President Shirley Ann Jackson at the event. “Access to the Watson system will enable new research in cognitive computing as it relates to a diverse range of scientific and engineering fields, and the experience of working on Watson will give our students an advantage as they compete for the best jobs in big data, analytics, and cognitive computing.”

“The award signifies our strong partnership with Rensselaer and our commitment to ensure New York state has the skills and capabilities to lead in big data applications and the next era of computing,” said John Kelly, M.S.’78, Ph.D.’80, senior vice president and director of IBM Research.

As part of a Shared University Research Award granted by IBM Research, IBM will provide Rensselaer with Watson hardware, software, and training.

The ability to use Watson to answer complex questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy, and confidence has enormous potential to help improve decision making across a variety of industries, from health care to retail, telecommunications, and financial services.

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