Watson, the supercomputer famous for beating the world's best human “Jeopardy!” champions, is going to college. IBM is announcing Wednesday that it will provide a Watson system to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the first time the computer is being sent to a university. Just like the flesh-and-blood students who will work on it, Watson is leaving home to sharpen its skills. Course work will include English and math. “It's a big step for us,” said Michael Henesey, IBM's vice president of business development. “We consider it absolutely strategic technology for IBM in the future. And we want to evolve it, of course, thoughtfully, but also in collaboration with the best and brightest in academia.”
Watson is a cognitive system that can process massive amounts of data, including natural language. To beat “Jeopardy!” champions in 2011, it was fed the contents of encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, news dispatches and movie scripts. For its medical work, it takes in medical textbooks and journals. After it takes in data, Watson can provide information like a “Jeopardy!” answer, a medical diagnosis or an estimate of financial risk. IBM, which provided a grant to RPI to operate Watson for three years, sees it as a way to help it boost the computer's cognitive capabilities. Artificial intelligence researchers at RPI want to do things like improve Watson's mathematical ability and help it quickly figure out the meaning of new or made-up words. They want to improve its ability to handle the torrent of images, videos and emails on the Web, the sort of unstructured information that is overwhelmingly fueling the data boom.