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After Jeopardy win, IBM teams up students with their 'baby' Watson

With a historic win on the Jeopardy tv show checked off the list, IBM’s Watson computer is now turning to upstate universities to see what the future could hold.

IBM and Cornell University have announced the winners of the second Watson Academic Case Competition where students put forward ideas for new ways to use Watson’s cognitive computing abilities to solve social and business challenges.

First place went to the team using Watson as a solution in customer service for consumer electronics firms, a project the team named Hello Watson.

Dennis Chua says he and his team mates, Joy Chua (no relation to Dennis) and Xiaoxi Du sat together brainstorming for hours before they decided they would tackle something that has affected all of them.

“We all had our laptops open and we were going through ideas of what we could use Watson to do. And I just suddenly said, ‘guys have you ever had problems with your computers?’ I just had a problem recently and I called support and it took forever.”

Dennis Chua says they decided to use Watson to make the lives of customers - like themselves - easier.

However, he says the idea also came from Watson’s experience in the past year, where the computer had been trained as a medical assistant in a pilot project.

“He told doctors what the best diagnosis should be according to some probabilistic* mechanisms. So we figured if Watson can cure patients, why not let’s cure consumer electronic products like computers.”

Chua says it wasn’t that hard once they had the idea, as the IBM computer has all the functions needed to bring Hello Watson to fruition.

Watson is able to comb through mass amounts of data, understand human speech and learn through experience.

“He remembers everything he has read before and if you give him a manual, say a manual for an Apple product, he knows exactly where to look for the answers.”

The team put together some projections, and they estimate that the average amount of time a customer spends on the phone with a support service would fall from about 14 minutes, to about 6 minutes if Hello Watson was used. 

Credit IBM.com

IBM’s director of Watson solutions Steve Gold says the competition is an opportunity for students to think about how this type of technology could be utilized in the future.

He also says it's an opportunity for IBM to glean ideas from the ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking of students.

“This very much is an exercise of interest to IBM. And it’s beyond just what the student acquires and gains from the experience, which we hope is very fulfilling, but it’s the fact that we’re learning along with them.”

Dennis Chua says the members of his team entered the competition purely for their love of Watson, and what the computer achieved on Jeopardy.

But he says the team learned a lot from the experience, particularly how to take such an extensive technology and apply it directly to the market.

Chua says it's exciting for them all to be a part of the IBM Watson process.

“The guys [at IBM] call Watson a baby, he’s still learning and he’s going to grow bigger and bigger and it’s just great to be a part of that.”

* Probabalistic: of, relating to, or based on probability

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail
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