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March, 12th 2013
12:20
 

Ashish Soni, Executive Director of Digital Innovation at USC Viterbi School of Engineering

By Ashish Soni

At USC, innovation is at the forefront of our curriculum and culture. As the Founding Director of the Viterbi Student Institute for Innovation, I am always looking for new ways to build a culture of innovation, one where our students have the freedom to cultivate new ideas and see them through to the next level.
 
That’s exactly what we were able to accomplish at USC last month when we collaborated with IBM on the first-ever West Coast Watson Academic Case Competition. More than 100 students across the university came together to put their critical thinking skills to the test and develop new applications for IBM’s Watson technology – and it was a huge success. 
 
As the world grows ever more complex due to the skyrocketing volume of Big Data, technologies like IBM’s Watson are piquing the interest of our students by allowing them to realize the true potential of what cognitive computing can achieve.

I was delighted to see their expressions when they viewed a demonstration of how Watson’s cognitive computing skills are helping doctors deliver better, more personalized and effective treatment to cancer patients, faster than ever before. It was no surprise that we received such an overwhelming response from our students for the opportunity to put their own strategic thinking behind how Watson’s technology can be further applied to solve business or societal challenges. 
 
It was amazing to see how quickly students from all different departments and majors quickly came together to collaborate on this project. Students from the Viterbi School of Engineering joined forces with those from the Marshall School of Business and there was no shortage of great ideas. The way the students from different disciplines worked together is similar to how IBM creates new technology and offerings – looking across various areas to find common relationships and ways to connect them. We saw innovative applications of Watson’s technology proposed for a number of different sectors – from healthcare and law to human resources. We saw how Watson could be used to not only identify evidence, but even forecast the probability of success in a law case. We saw how a Watson-powered employee training system could help HR managers improve employee satisfaction and retention. We even saw how Watson could help doctors potentially identify and treat victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
 
What our students gained from this experience was tremendous. Not only were they exposed to the next generation of computing technology, they demonstrated they had the capacity to think strategically, work collaboratively and present their findings within a set timeframe. They learned how to distill a large, complex problem into individual elements and map a technology solution back to it. As the demand for analytics and data science skills continues to grow, exposure to experiences like this will prove invaluable for our students as they look to take their first steps outside of the classroom and into the real world. 
 
As the era of cognitive computing unfolds before our eyes, innovators will be in high demand — those with the ability to turn complex data into actionable insight. At USC, we know our students will be up for the challenge.

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