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IBM's Watson Wants to Be Your Next Fitness Coach

The computer that won the TV game show "Jeopardy!" is coming to Under Armour's fitness apps.


IBM wants its thinking supercomputer Watson to help you get in shape.

In a speech at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty — the first IBM CEO to ever speak at the event — said the company will team up with fitness apparel company Under Armour on a forthcoming version of its UA Record fitness app for Apple’s iPhone.

IBM’s Watson — the computer that famously beat human champions on the TV game show “Jeopardy!” five years ago — will underpin the new app and claims to effectively become a coach, nutrition consultant and sleep analyst for athletes who use it.

Rometty announced the team-up with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. He said the company’s connected health products are used by as many as 160 million people. It will also compare a person’s data to that of millions others in similar situations with a feature called “Just Like Me.”

Fitness was only one new arena into which IBM said it will push its Watson platform. In a deal with Medtronic, the medical device company, IBM said Watson will help people with diabetes better manage their illness with an app that tracks data from insulin pumps and glucose monitoring devices.

In another application, Watson’s capabilities have been added to a robot. SoftBank Robotics VP Kenichi Yoshida joined Rometty onstage to demonstrate Pepper, a so-called “empathetic robot” that can learn to converse with people. SoftBank is developing the robot for use in customer service in the banking, retail and hospitality industries. IBM said it would team with SoftBank last year with the mission of teaching the system to operate in Japanese.

Watson has been an important strategic initiative for IBM as the company has moved away from more traditional lines of computing in recent years. In her remarks, Rometty argued that as companies embrace technologies like the Internet of Things for gathering data, a cognitive system like Watson will be called upon to help companies analyze and interpret data to help make business decisions.

“This is an era of systems you do not program,” she said, describing cognitive computers. “They understand, they reason and they learn. And, therefore, they have hypotheses and confidence levels.”

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