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IBM taps U of R for ideas on putting Watson to work

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The winning team. IBM's Dan Pelino, right, joins MBA students Muhammad Munir, Christian Beck, Jaimee Saxton and Enric Coll.

IBM's Watson already has Jeopardy! under its belt.

Now Big Blue is turning to the University of Rochester's Simon School of Business for ideas on what to do next.

Manoj Saxena, the general manager of IBM's Watson Solutions unit, says the goal is finding ideas that will "take Watson from a Jeopardy-playing machine to a business-grade decision support system."

Twenty-five Simon MBA students were the first in the nation to partner with IBM on tackling that charge.

The first place idea used the supercomputer for crunching reams of weather-related data and census numbers during natural disasters.

The aim, Saxena says, is "helping local authorities deploy the right resources to prevent damage and destruction."

Two other winning ideas put Watson to work within the mining and air travel industries.

Saxena says IBM will evaluate the winning ideas for market attractiveness.

The company plans to repeat the "academic case competition" at other universities.

Saxena says a major aspect of the IBM initiative is building analytic skills into the future work force. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, the U.S. faces a shortage of up to 190,000 workers with analytical expertise.

"One of the ways we want to get ahead of the curve is by working with universities to get students aware and excited about the possibilities of Watson," says Saxena.

"It's about building the next generation workers of the United States with the right set of analytic skills."

Here's an IBM-produced video about teaming up with the U of R:

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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