IBM wants to see your Watson mobile apps

Watson Mobile Developer Challenge aims to see who can put IBM's cognitive computing platform to the most creative uses on mobile devices

Big Blue has announced a new contest to get mobile developers -- and most everyone else who can use an API -- serious about Watson, its cognitive computing platform.

Billed as the "IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge," the contest invites software developers to produce apps that make use of Watson's resources, which include natural-language processing.

After three months of competition and a bit of pitchmanship from developers, IBM will choose three winners to receive further marketing and development support for their apps.

Jerry Cuomo, IBM fellow and CTO for WebSphere, discussed how one of the most important features Watson offers developers (mobile developers, specifically) is the idea of "the pedigree of the answer -- why Watson answered a query that way."

Cuomo described how one of the developers he spoke to recently is considering using Watson in retail as a way to do advanced product recommendations. "Instead of saying, 'Five people you like bought something like this,' they can say why they bought that, and maybe with those insights you can find out you don't just need a wrench, but a full ratchet set." Another example Cuomo cited was a doctor using an app during a consultation to determine which of a number of different treatments might be most appropriate.

But what IBM wants most with this contest is to be surprised. When asked what were the big motivations for drumming up developer interest in Watson via a contest, Cuomo cited several things. First and foremost was to throw open the doors and allow Watson to be used in ways that even IBM would never have anticipated.

"The more you put something out, the broader you make it, the less boundaries you put on it, the more open innovation you have -- the more things you wouldn't expect," Cuomo said. "I have a list of things I expect people to do with Watson, but by unleashing it to people in Brazil and Africa and China, as well as Silicon Valley, who knows what they'll come up with. That's the intrigue behind having a contest."

Cuomo drew analogies to how Watson was brought to the world's attention by way of its appearance on "Jeopardy." "We came up with 'Jeopardy' as a way to make everyone go 'hmm, what else is possible?' The idea wasn't to win a game show, but to stimulate thought about possibilities. We ourselves don't know the edges of the possibilities."

A second motive for the competition was to accelerate the pace of feedback between Watson developers and IBM. "We want to make sure we have the right APIs and that people find them useful," Cuomo said. "I think we will learn a lot about how to expose Watson in ways mortal users can consume."

Cuomo also noted that the feedback process will not only be useful for better structuring the Watson APIs, but also for learning what monetization models might work best. The exact way Watson will be monetized still remains unclear, although it's likely to revolve around metering API requests.

The winners of the contest, according to Cuomo, will be able to release their apps as their own products, and will not be required to make them into IBM-branded items. According to IBM's press release, winners will "work with IBM's recently launched global consulting practice, IBM Interactive Experience, to receive design consulting and support from IBM experts to develop a viable commercial app."

When the most recent incarnation of Watson was announced as a cloud service, one of the plans mentioned for bringing Watson to the broadest possible audience was an app marketplace. IBM might have followed the pattern of enterprise-level marketplaces created by HP and BMC, rather than more open-ended venues like Apple's App Store and the Google Play store. But it looks like it'll be more in the vein of the latter two, with Watson-powered apps jockeying for competition with Google's services and Apple's Siri -- or, if IBM's moonshot comes true, knocking them right off the page.

This story, "IBM wants to see your Watson mobile apps," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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