When it was introduced back in 2011, IBM billed Watson as a whole new breed of computing system. It was a supercomputer that was designed to more closely mimic the thought patterns of humans than it was its mechanical kin; an artificial intelligence of sorts designed to 'think' rather than 'compute.' Apparently, whatever IBM did, it worked: Watson quickly defeated Jeopardy champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to the tune of $1 million dollars. A short time later, IBM decided to put the computer to a somewhat nobler use; setting Watson up as a decision-making platform for lung cancer treatment.
Now, it seems Watson is expanding its horizons yet again, this time going from medicine to software development.Well, sort of. This isn't the original Watson we're talking about, but a new, improved, cloud-based version. Sort of like Watson's younger, more attractive sibling, if you stop to think about it.
IBM claims that this new Watson is significantly less of a resource hog than the old one, which required a downright exorbitant amount of power. What's more, it's also considerably more powerful than its predecessor; IBM claims to have boosted performance by around 240% and dropped physical and power requirements by 75%.
What this means in layman's terms, basically, is that Watson is now able to run as a cloud-based service. IBM intends to wield this capability to its full potential, using Watson's power to help fuel software development.
"By sharing IBM Watson's cognitive abilities with the world," explained IBM Software Solutions Senior Vice President Michael Rodin "we aim to fuel a new ecosystem that accelerates innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. With this move, IBM is taking a bold step to advance the new era of cognitive computing. Together with our partners we'll spark a new class of applications that will learn from experience, improve with each interaction and outcome, and assist in solving the most complex questions facing the industry and society."
Developers who are participating in the new program will be able to choose between two separate data sources for Watson to chew on. Either they can use their own stores, or they can pull third-party data in from the Watson Content Store. Interested developers can swing by the IBM Watson Website to sign up for the program, but they must be aware that they'll need to reveal their idea without actually being guaranteed access.
A risky proposition, for sure...but then, having the world's first thinking supercomputer on your development team might well be worth it as a reward.