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Jan 31, 2013 10:31 AM EST

RPI to Find New Uses for IBM’s Watson System

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private research university, will now work on the IBM Watson System to find new uses apart from its reasoning and cognitive abilities. The findings can be used to develop new innovations in finance, information technology, business analytics, retail and telecommunications.

This supercomputer challenged and defeated two Jeopardy!'s all-time champions in 2011. Jeopardy is a quiz show, wherein contestants are presented with clues in the form of answers and they should phrase their responses in question form.

"It's a big step for us," Michael Henesey, IBM's vice president of business development said in a press release. "We consider it absolutely strategic technology for IBM in the future."

Henesey said that the company, in collaboration with qualified academia, would like to get a deeper understating of this cognitive system for its evolution.

Watson is capable of understanding subtle nuances of natural language, sort vast amounts of data and provide answers to human users' questions. 

Currently, the system's cognitive abilities are used in finance and health care sectors. Watson is assisting doctors to examine a patient's history and symptoms, and make faster and accurate diagnoses. At financial institutions, the system is enhancing and simplifying banking experience.

RPI will operate on Watson for three years to observe and enhance the computer's cognitive capabilities. Researchers at the university will be working on improving Watson's arithmetical aptitude, help it quickly figure out the meaning of new or artificial words, and develop its ability to handle numerous images, videos and emails on the Web.

Selmer Bringsjord, head of RPI's department of cognitive science, said that a tiny contribution to this system will give the university immense satisfaction.

"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 Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. "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." 

However, the original Watson will remain at IBM's Research Headquarters. The company will provide a modified version of the system to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to discover new uses for Watson and deepen its cognitive capabilities.  RPI has hardware that is capable of running the system's software at its supercomputing center in the Rensselaer Tech Park. 

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