IBM Plans Pint-Sized Watson

Big Blue sees applications for a miniature version of its AI technology in healthcare, finance, and IT.

Paul McDougall, Editor At Large, InformationWeek

September 4, 2012

2 Min Read

IBM said it plans to produce a miniature version of Watson, the thinking machine that vanquished human opponents on the game show Jeopardy.

"The power it takes to make Watson work is dropping like a stone," IBM innovation VP Bernie Meyerson told Bloomberg. "One day you will have ready access to an incredible engine with a world knowledge base."

Meyerson envisions a number of industrial and commercial applications for a pocket-sized Watson. For instance, a farmer could ask it about the best time to plant a particular crop. Such a machine could deliver a response based on real-time weather, climate, and location data.

Other industries in which IBM's artificial intelligence (AI) technology could find a home include finance, healthcare, and IT. IBM could also potentially license Watson AI software to mobile device makers looking to provide an alternative to Apple's Siri, a service that's programmed to answer common questions for iPhone users.

[ Move over KITT from Knight Rider. Siri And Rivals Prep Next Trick: Mind Reading. ]

IBM is currently using Watson internally. Its new zEnterprise EC12 mainframe runs Watson-style routines to self-diagnose and fix problems. "It talks to itself a lot," said IBM zEnterprise general manager Doug Blalog, in a recent interview.

The EC12, the result of a $1 billion research and development effort, features 120 processor cores, 101 of them configurable. That's compared to 80 in its predecessor, the zEnterprise 196, which IBM launched two years ago.

Watson, however, is best known for its performance last year on Jeopardy.

"I for one welcome our new computer overlords," said Jeopardy record holder Ken Jennings in February 2011, after Watson handily defeated him and Brad Rutter, another past champ from the game show, in a two-match contest.

Watson's cumulative score was $77,147, compared to $24,000 for Jennings and $21,600 for Rutter. In vanquishing its human opponents, Watson won a grand prize of $1 million on behalf of IBM, which the company donated to charity.

"Watson is fast, knows a lot of stuff, and can really dominate a match," said Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, stating what became apparent over the exhibition of the state-of-the-art in artificial intelligence.

IBM did not put a timetable on its plans to produce pint-sized version of Watson, as some of the necessary breakthroughs, like component miniaturization, could take years to develop.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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