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IBM's Watson computing system

IBM's Watson computing system

When we think of the systems that make up a smarter planet, what typically comes to mind are industries like manufacturing, transportation, energy, or banking.  But there is another ‘industry’ that needs to become smarter.  We might call it the humanitarian industry.  That is, the system that creates a safety net to support society and is made up of philanthropies, social services, education organizations, NGOs and government agencies.

In many ways, this is the most human of all systems.  So it is ironic to consider how Watson, a computing system, could help us solve civic, social and cultural challenges and make smarter humanitarian decisions. But Watson’s deep QA technology presents new possibilities to do just that.  Through private sector collaboration with nonprofits, Watson can become the next innovation to be used as a force for societal good.

IBM has a strong track record in leveraging technology to help solve society’s challenges.  We’ve used grid technology to build World Community Grid, DNA analysis to develop the Genographic Project, and speech recognition technology to create Reading Companion.  What we’ve learned through these and other corporate citizenship efforts is that innovation can lead to outcomes with greater societal impact than simple corporate philanthropy alone (i.e. check writing).  We’ve also learned that getting the most from innovations like Watson requires collaboration and partnerships.

That’s why IBM recently invited about 100 leaders from the humanitarian sector to learn about the technology behind Watson and to discuss how we might work together to apply that technology toward achieving societal good.  Ideas ranged from how Watson could help us cut error rates of emergency systems (like 911 and 311) to how Watson might be used as an aid to transform how teachers teach and children learn.  You can learn more about the event by reading this article in Fast Company.

At the end of the event, we encouraged attendees to share their best ideas about how Watson’s technology might be applied to humanitarian endeavors.  I invite you to do so as well.  Please visit the citizen IBM blog to learn more and share your ideas.

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