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November 14, 2013

Watson as a Service Becomes a Reality

Isaac Lopez

IBM’s vision of ubiquitous “cognitive” computing took a step forward today as the company announced that it will be offering its Watson platform to developers in the cloud.

While we knew this was coming, the news is still exciting, as cloud access to Watson’s big data crunching prowess represents the potential for a whole new class of applications powered by a system that can process and understand queries posed in natural language. The potential is not lost on IBM, which says it envisions the technology spurring an entire new tech ecosystem, complete with new springs of venture capital flowing into Watson-centric start-up coffers.

“By sharing IBM Watson’s cognitive abilities with the world, we aim to fuel a new ecosystem that accelerates innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Michael Rhodin, Senior Vice President with the IBM Solutions Group. “Together with our partners we’ll spark a new class of applications that will learn from experience, improve with each interaction and outcome, and assist in solving the most complex questions facing the industry and society.”

The service, which will be available through APIs, will allow developers using the cloud-based Watson to use their company’s own data as the data layer for insights. Additionally, IBM is powering up a Watson Content Store, which will house third-party data resources to power Watson’s knowledge base. Already, IBM says it’s partnered with Healthline, which will offer a health reference library that IBM says will “enable the promotion of healthy lifestyles, support disease prevention, and offer clinically significant, medically reviewed health information to everyday people so that they are able to make more confident healthcare decisions.”

In unveiling its vision to the public, IBM says that it has three partners who have already developed Watson-powered apps that it expects to see deployed in 2014. These partners include:

  • Fluid – Ever wanted a friend to go shopping with online? Fluid is building an app called the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper, which will leverage the natural language and big data crunching capabilities of Watson, enabling it as a personal shopper.
  • MD Buyline – This medical supply chain solutions provider is working on an app to help clinical and financial users in hospitals to make real-time, informed purchasing decisions on medical devices for the patients under their care.
  • Welltok – This group is creating an app that will turn Watson into a conversational virtual personal health assistant that will consult with users and develop plans that they can use to improve whatever aspect of health they are trying to improve. Plugged in with its social health management system, users are rewarded for engaging in these healthy behaviors.

As part of the roll-out of Watson, IBM earlier this year released the Watson Engagement Advisor, which moves the cognitive system into the customer service call center, listening in on calls and aiding customer service professionals with information to help resolve issues.

In a speech earlier this year to the Council on Foreign Relations, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty explained that technologies such as Watson represent a third era of computing in which big data and machine learning combine to form a new epoch.

Related items:

New Initiative Aims to Expand Watson’s Reach 

Rometty: The Third Era and How to Win the Future 

Watson: Coming to a Cloud Near You