IBM continues to commercialize its Watson-branded cognitive computing technology, setting up a new Watson business unit and unveiling two new Watson-derived services.
IBM's new division, called the Watson Business Group, will develop and run cloud-based cognitive applications and services on behalf of enterprise users. IBM will invest $1 billion in the group, including $100 million earmarked to invest in startup companies building applications that run on the Watson Developer cloud.
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Michael Rhodin, who most recently served as a senior vice president for the IBM Software Solutions Group, will head up the Watson Group. The new business unit will be staffed by 2,000 IBM professionals and will be headquartered at 51 Astor Place in Manhattan, in New York's "Silicon Alley" district.
IBM first developed Watson as a research project to compete against humans on the game show "Jeopardy," answering obscure trivia questions across a wide range of topics. Watson can formulate answers to specific questions using a range of source materials in various formats, honing its answers by, in effect, learning how to formulate the best responses through trial and error. This approach is known as cognitive computing because it involves a computer emulating a biological brain to learn about its environment.
The company has set up Watson as a cloud service that enterprises can use to tackle difficult problems. The company has set up Watson-like systems to serve as virtual assistants to help doctors diagnose medical conditions and to help retail businesses more effectively interact with their customers. Both the media analysis company Nielsen and Royal Bank of Canada use Watson services.
Last year, the company also launched the Watson Ecosystem, a development platform that allows third-party businesses and entrepreneurs to build their own cognitive computing applications.
The Watson Group's headquarters will provide labs where clients can learn about and test cognitive computing systems. It will also offer workshops and seminars on the benefits of cognitive computing.
The business unit will consist of four groups. One of those, called the IBM Watson Innovation group, will concentrate on core research and development.