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Meet Jill Watson, your new robot teaching assistant

The Georgia Tech experiment demonstrates the range of possibilities for artificial intelligence.

Asa Mathat

Students enrolled in Georgia Tech's online artificial intelligence course gave one of their teaching assistants high marks for accuracy.

Little did they know that Jill Watson was a "virtual TA" — the creation of a team of graduate students using IBM's Watson, a cognitive intelligence platform.

"At the end of the day, Jill was the best — and she was Watson," said IBM's Ginni Rometty in remarks Wednesday at the Code Conference at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Rometty talked about the growing importance of artificial intelligence — which she calls "cognitive computing," because it's the by-product of data and human teachers — and its applications in the workplace, taking over rote, repetitive tasks (like reviewing CT scans to help identify anomalies for radiologists to review).

Jill Watson is exhibit A in this new, data-driven world order: a team of graduate students at the university used the questions students asked in an online discussion forum (there were about 40,000 posts in the class forum) to begin prepping Jill to provide answers. And they tapped IBM's open developer forums to identify the proper code to allow "Jill" to respond to questions posed.

The result: about 97 percent confidence in her answers.

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