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Michael Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Watson Group

Michael Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Watson Group

By Michael Rhodin

When IBM’s Watson arrived on the scene three years ago, it did one thing really well: Answer written questions very quickly on a wide range of topics. It amazed all of us with its understanding of language and its ability to sort through vast amounts of data in seconds. But that was just the beginning.

Today, IBM Watson is on a path to augment and scale human expertise on a variety of dimensions. As a software geek, I’m really excited about this. We’re architecting a technology development system, called the Watson Platform, which will be like a library for cognitive technologies. Scientists within IBM Research and engineers in the Watson Group are building discrete cognitive components that can be pulled off the virtual shelf by developers at IBM, by entrepreneurs and by corporate developers–and used in any number of applications.

The original Watson Deep Q&A program was just the start. Watson Platform components are grouped in four categories: Perceiving, Reasoning, Relating and Learning. Within each category, you can expect dozens of components. For example, within Reasoning, we’re using discovery technology to inspire creativity—helping doctors spot new treatments for cancer and chefs dream up new food recipes. Within Perceiving, Watson is expanding from interpreting language to understanding the personalities of the people who use it—helping businesses to identify needs their customers might not even recognize. And with our significant investments in Research, we will continue to expand Watson’s capabilities in each of these areas.

Since we announced the Watson Ecosystem and the Watson Developer Cloud last November, more than 2,000 entrepreneurial companies have asked to participate. We’re working closely with some innovative companies such as Welltok, leading health optimization company that is revolutionizing the way population health managers align consumer activities and behaviors with the right incentives and rewards; and Fluid, which is developing a personal shopping advisor for online shopping sites. IBM has invested in both companies with a goal of helping bring their applications to market quickly. That’s part of the $100 million in venture capital we have set aside to support our Watson Ecosystem partners.

As part of this innovation initiative, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced the IBM Watson Mobile App Challenge—calling on developers with great ideas to submit their ideas for the opportunity to work with us to turn their dreams into reality. The goal is to deliver the amazing capabilities of Watson to the palm of your hand. Hundreds of companies responded with ideas. We narrowed the field down to 25 semi-finalists. The three winners will be announced in early June.

The winners will join the Watson Ecosystem program and take advantage of the Watson Developer Cloud. They’ll work with IBM’s new global consulting practice, IBM Interactive Experience, to get help in conceiving and designing their projects. The goal: to help them build and launch viable commercial mobile apps.

Ultimately, many of the applications built by people outside IBM, plus IBM’s own Watson services, will be sold on the IBM Cloud Marketplace, which was announced earlier today by my colleague, Robert LeBlanc. It’s essentially a digital shopping mall for all kinds of cloud services produced by IBM and business partners. There will be a special “Watson zone” within the Marketplace for Watson apps.

And today, we’re announcing a parallel initiative to the IBM Watson Developer Cloud that will expand Watson’s focus on innovators from entrepreneurs to enterprises. The Watson Developer Cloud Enterprise is a cloud-computing community that enables corporate developers to prototype and test new enterprise applications based on Watson. With access to the Developer Cloud Enterprise, I expect to see incredible examples of how cognitive computing is transforming world-class businesses.

We’re in the very early days of the Watson Ecosystem. There’s a lot of hard work ahead—for IBM and our business partners. While I spend a lot of time dealing with what is, I focus even more on what can be. I foresee a vast ecosystem of brilliant technologists, enterprising business leaders, and sharp investors in startups—all focused on the same shared goal: co-creating the era of cognitive computing. It’s a tremendous opportunity, for IBM and the world. I can’t wait to see it happen.

The learn more about the new era, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.

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