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IBM Wants Developers to Make Watson Mobile

Big Blue asks for big ideas.


IBM today challenged mobile developers to make use of its Watson cognitive computing engine for new smartphone apps.

The company today launched the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, a competition it hopes will attract developers to create useful apps using Watson, the computing platform that first gained fame by beating two human champions of the TV game show “Jeopardy.” CEO Ginni Rometty issued the challenge in a speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The challenge will last three months, and three winners will be selected, all of whom will get consulting help from Big Blue to build their app.

Watson is designed to answer questions presented in natural language, and so it “reads” millions of pages of information on many subjects. In the same way that it was interesting to have IBM supercomputers challenge human players at chess in the 1990s, the game show challenge was both an interesting PR stunt and an interesting challenge in computer science. Questions on “Jeopardy” are often tricky and full of double meanings, which meant Watson had to sort through all of that and come up with correct answers. This it did in 2011.

The challenge is the latest move by Big Blue to push Watson as a platform for strategic growth. Last month, IBM said it would invest $1 billion to create a Watson business group within IBM and announced the creation of a $100 million venture capital fund for startups building applications using Watson technology. It announced the the fund’s first investment in Welltok, a Denver-based health care software firm, earlier this month.

Watson is one of two businesses that IBM has been trying to build up in recent weeks. The other is its cloud computing business, SoftLayer. Meanwhile, it has been divesting and shopping around some of its other business units. Last month, it sold its x86 server division to Lenovo, and it has also recently been exploring the sale of its software-defined networking group.

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