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IBM Watson: 29 Signs Of Progress

IBM's Watson Group touts customer successes, new partners, APIs, and cloud services as it opens headquarters in New York City.

in the cognitive space is pretty significant," Harbour told InformationWeek. In another example, the deployment at Deakin University announced this week uses Watson Engagement Advisor in a new way: as a student advisor.

"When you want to show scale, you want to take a technology and show that you can use it in a different domain, and that's what we're doing," said Harbour.

[Want the scoop on Watson's newest app? Read IBM Watson Data Analysis Service Revealed.]

To accelerate future deployments, IBM is in the process of creating industry-focused corpuses of knowledge on which Watson is pre-trained so customers can cut down on deployment time. The Watson Group has also built its own cloud for faster deployments, and it's offering granular, cloud-based services that entrepreneurs are exploiting in Web and mobile apps. The startups demonstrating Watson-based apps included:

WayBlazer. Launched by Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity and former chairman of Kayak.com, this service is aimed at providing concise, personalized travel advice based on preferences and behaviors expressed in natural-language interactions and social profiles. A Watson User-Modeling application profiles the style and interests of the would-be traveler and then delivers targeted recommendations combing through structured and unstructured sources about destinations, restaurants, hotels, events, and local attractions. The service is powering a website developed by the Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

LifeLearn. This vendor's Sofie app is designed to advise veterinarians, who often face time-critical diagnostic situations while treating animals ranging from dogs and cats to lizards, snakes, birds, and buffalo. Watson has been trained on vast troves of diagnostic information, best-practice treatment options, and specialist insights on a range of animals.

Red Ant. This firm's retail-sales trainer mobile app helps store employees identify customer buying preferences by analyzing demographics, purchase history, and wish lists, as well as product information, local pricing, customer reviews, and tech specs. Voice or text input and question-and-answer interaction help guide salespeople to provide better, more personalized customer service.

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LifeLearn's Sofie app taps Watson to advise veterinarians when making time-critical diagnoses on a variety of animals.

IBM isn't entirely alone in the artificial intelligence and cognitive computing domain. Wolfram Alpha and startups such as Saffron share a few of the same goals. But Watson is the biggest, boldest, and most visible bet that we're entering a new era of computing. It's too early to liken Watson's achievements to the revolution in computing sparked by the IBM 360 back in the 1960s -- an analogy IBM senior VP and Watson leader Mike Rhodin drew at Tuesday's event -- but the potential is becoming clearer with each new application and deployment.

While there's a role for PhD-level data scientists, the real power is in making advanced analysis work for mainstream -- often Excel-wielding -- business users. Here's how. Get the Analytics For All issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today. (Free registration required.)

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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