FORTUNE -- It has been two years since IBM's latest supercomputer, Watson, beat lowly humans on a special episode of Jeopardy!. Since then, the so-called cognitive system has expanded its vocabulary and expertise, developing into a fledgling yet promising commercial business for the tech giant.
The company has already piloted Watson-based applications in health care and customer service with a handful of big-name customers, including Indianapolis-based insurance company WellPoint (WLP). Now, in an effort to make Watson's computational prowess more widely available, IBM (IBM) has announced it will "open up" the supercomputer to some third-party developers as a cloud-based platform.
"We certainly could have said that we're going to hang on to Watson," says John Gordon, vice president of IBM Watson Solutions. "But we think to have the greatest impact we've got to go and partner with a great set of innovators."
Initially, the Watson Developers Cloud won't be open to just anyone. IBM says it plans to roll out developer tools in stages to "progressively larger communities." At launch, the company is announcing three partners, which have developed applications for health care and retail use. In addition to the developer tools, IBM says it will also give partners access to 350 of its own "subject matter experts" in areas such as design to help spur the creation of Watson-based applications. The company will also set up a content store for Watson apps and is working with the venture capital community to "identify, engage, and support" software developers that could be interested in building their applications on top of Watson. It's not clear exactly what that means, though IBM's Gordon did say that the company is not ruling out some kind of dedicated fund for Watson-based apps in the future.
What started as a gimmicky, one-time feat of computational strength has turned into a big opportunity for IBM, which believes that Watson will help it usher in a new era of computing. The company realizes that it can't be the only one developing applications for Watson; opening up the platform is a natural solution. Still, IBM must prove to developers that its tools are easy, robust, and open enough to make Watson attractive. And then there's the issue of pricing, which the company has yet to unveil. IBM's vision is that the power of Watson will someday be available in your pocket, courtesy of a smartphone or tablet computer. This is one small step in that direction.
IBM's supercomputer is getting a job in customer service.
FORTUNE -- It's still a sluggish job market out there, but apparently not for supercomputers. IBM's question-answering machine Watson, best known for beating lowly humans on Jeopardy!, just got a new job. According to the tech giant, Watson will now be employed in customer service centers, used as a tool for both representatives and consumers to get fast, data-driven responses.
It's been two MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - May 21, 2013 7:02 AM ET
Getting supercomputers like IBM's Watson to understand slang may be the final frontier in machine intelligence.
FORTUNE -- The scientific test to gauge if a computer can "think" is surprisingly simple: Can it engage in small talk? The so-called Turing test says a computer capable of carrying on a natural conversation without giving itself away can be considered intelligent. So far, no machine has made the cut.
Eric Brown, a research scientist MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - Jan 7, 2013 5:00 AM ET
CEO Sam Palmisano took a revitalized IBM and made it the envy of the tech world and darling of investors. His secret? He's restored Big Blue's focus on innovation and set it up for an even brighter future. (Move over, Lou Gerstner.)
Here is what you probably know about IBM. You know International Business Machines was one of America's first tech companies, and in the 1960s and 1970s became the world's MOREJessi Hempel, writer - Mar 4, 2011 5:00 AM ET
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"I don't think Verizon needs the Nokia and Microsoft relationship. Right now the three OS players we see for our network are Android, Apple, and RIM." -- Verizon CTO Tony Melone (Business Insider and CNET)
Facebook revealed that a dozen or so smartphones with heavy Facebook integration MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Feb 16, 2011 7:54 AM ET
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The first (of three) days of Jeopardy featuring the IBM supercomputer Watson as a contestant ended in a tie. Watson and competitor Brad Rutter wrapped up the evening with $5,000 each on the scoreboard, while Ken Jennings, who had bested Watson in the much-publicized practice match, ended up with $2,000. (AllThingsD) AOL CEO Tim Armstrong invested more than $10 million in MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Feb 15, 2011 8:31 AM ET
Watch it this afternoon, when an IBM supercomputer takes on two human champions
It's the biggest man vs. machine confrontation since Deep Blue humiliated Gary Kasparov on the chess board in 1997.
Over the course of three episodes -- February 14, 15 and 16 -- an IBM (IBM) supercomputer named Watson will challenge Jeopardy!'s most successful human contestants.
We're not privy to the outcome, but based on the level of pre-publicity generated by MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 14, 2011 1:33 PM ET
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