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IBM's Watson Will Learn Japanese in Deal With SoftBank

The game-show-winning computer may soon be big in Japan.


IBM’s game-show-winning supercomputer Watson will be trained to read Japanese as the result of a deal announced tonight between Big Blue and SoftBank that will bring the system to customers in Japan.

Aside from beating humans at the TV game show “Jeopardy!,” Watson has studied medicine, helped with cancer research and become a customer service whiz. This is the first time it will have to learn a language written in a non-Western alphabet.

Watson’s basic approach is to ingest huge troves of data on a subject, and then to analyze it for relationships that might not be apparent to humans. In turn, human users can ask natural language questions and Watson offers up the best answer based on the data it has and its understanding of the subject. IBM calls it “cognitive computing” and considers it a long-term bet.

It’s the latest move by IBM to push Watson as a strategically important business. After the system failed to meet initial sales expectations, IBM sought to spur activity by creating a $100 million venture fund intended for companies that develop applications to run on Watson. It also added Watson as a product available on its SoftLayer cloud computing service, which itself is still in the process of an aggressive expansion.

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