IBM Invests $100M to Help Developers Build Cognitive Applications

Michael Vizard, January 20th, 2014

Hard on the heels of a recent move to make its Watson supercomputer a service that developers can invoke via RESTful APIs, IBM is now making $100 million available to help developers build cognitive computing applications that can run on top of Watson.

The funding is part of a larger $1 billion investment that IBM is making to create a formal Watson Group and is designed to encourage independent software vendors to become part of an ecosystem that IBM is trying to build around Watson.

As interesting as Watson is, however, the challenge that many developers are going to encounter is just what constitutes a cognitive computing application. Loosely speaking, a cognitive application is any piece of software that leverages artificial intelligence to help people make better decisions.

Examples of what IBM expects to see in terms of cognitive computing applications include:

  • The classroom will learn about you: The classroom of the future will learn about each individual student during the course of his or her education. Cognitive computing will help calculate everything possible about how each student learns and then continually adapt and fine-tune the information delivered to that student.
  • Doctors will leverage DNA to treat patients proactively: Cognitive systems in the cloud will make DNA-specific personalized treatment options for conditions such as stroke and heart disease more accessible and affordable.
  • Cities will learn how you live: Mobile devices enabled by cognitive systems will provide a digital key to the city. People will have fingertip access to information about everything that’s happening in the city.

Dario Gil, director of energy and natural resources for IBM Research, says that these kinds of applications are just the tip of the iceberg. What they will all have in common is a set of APIs in the data layer, the analytics layer, and the cognitive service level. Not all those service levels need to run on Watson. Instead, Gil expects to see a federated distribution of APIs across the enterprise that all make calls to Watson.

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Very few developers will be able to afford to build these applications, which is why IBM is making Watson available as a cloud service. But most cognitive computing applications are going to require access to a level on instrumentation that doesn’t currently exist. One of the reasons that IBM is so interested in the Internet of Things (IoT) under the guise of IBM Smarter Planet, for example, is that the IoT forms the foundation for creating the data that will be needed to drive cognitive applications.

Naturally, to realize this vision of cognitive computing will take years. But if it is to become a reality, developers need to begin writing those applications today.

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