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IBM's Watson supercomputer is coming to Silicon Valley

September 28
9:52 AM 2015

IBM is bringing its supercomputer, Watson, to Silicon Valley.

The tech giant will open in San Francisco, California an innovation center for Watson, known for defeating human rivals on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy, in 2011. The new hub, called Watson West, opens mid-2016 and will house some 400 employees, to be led by IBM Cognitive Commerce manager Deepak Advani.

The San Francisco Bay Area is now a global center for innovation, and with Silicon Valley-based tech companies Apple and Google investing heavily on artificial intelligence and machine learning, IBM thinks it's the place where it should be.

Many start-ups in Silicon Valley are using Watson's technology. With its new hub, IBM says entrepreneurs, as well as developers and data scientists, will have greater access to Watson's cognitive computing abilities. "We believe that by opening Watson to all, and continuously expanding what it can do, we are democratizing the power of data, and with it innovation," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president for IBM Watson.

This will be the second office of IBM, the first being in Manhattan, New York.

Named after IBM's first CEO, Thomas Watson Sr., Watson has transformed into a cloud-based AI platform from a supercomputer capable of processing multiple complex questions. Currently, more than 77,000 developers around the world are using the cloud service to develop new ideas.

"Since introducing the Watson development platform, thousands of people have used these technologies in new and inventive ways, and many have done so without extensive experience as a coder or data scientist," said Rhodin.

When Watson won the grand prize on Jeopardy, it was using only one API or blueprint for software developers, known as Question & Answer. This had five underlying technologies, namely natural language processing, machine learning, question analysis, feature engineering, and ontology analysis.

Now Watson has 27 separate API's. Among these are face-detection and speech-to-text and text-to-speech, keyword extraction. It can help detect people's tone in writing as well as understand medical records and treatments.  

By growing its APIs, IBM hopes to attract more people who might want to add new technologies to the ecosystem or create Watson-based apps and services.

IBM now has more than 100 software developers/ partners. Mirroring Apple's App Store business model, it makes money by getting a share of the sales of partners' apps.

IBM's analytics business is worth $17 billion, and Watson is only a part of it.

IBM's earnings have been falling, with total revenue in the second quarter dropping 13.5% from a year ago. That's due to weakness in its core businesses, including services and software. With Watson, the tech giant hopes to stem the decline and spur growth.

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