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JIM FITZGERALD   |   February 8, 2013    1:17 PM ET

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Dr. Watson is accepting new patients.

The Watson supercomputer is graduating from its medical residency and is being offered commercially to doctors and health insurance companies, IBM said Friday.

MICHAEL HILL   |   January 30, 2013    8:26 AM ET

TROY, N.Y. -- 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.

JIM FITZGERALD   |   March 22, 2012   10:24 AM ET

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The medical training of IBM's speedy Watson computer will continue with a residency at a renowned Manhattan cancer hospital.

IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said Thursday that they will add the latest in oncology research – and the hospital's accumulated experience – to Watson's vast knowledge base, and keep updating it.

Bonnie Kavoussi   |   March 6, 2012    8:45 AM ET

Banks don't exactly have stellar reputations for customer service.

Enter the robots.

On Monday, Citigroup announced that it would try to figure out how to advance "customer interactions" by using IBM's supercomputer 'Watson,' the robot that made its name by dominating humans on Jeopardy!

The nation's third largest bank, Citigroup, is the first to tap Watson's enormous data-crunching capabilities and is planning on using the supercomputer to "analyze customer needs and process financial, economic and client data to advance and personalize digital banking."

(We are not sure what it say about the state of banking that it takes a robot to make it personal.)

'Watson' can read 200 million pages in three seconds and learn information and answer questions like a human being. Citigroup said in a press release that it aims to become "the leading digital bank."

Citigroup can use the help. Its profit was 11 percent lower at the end of 2011 than over the same period a year earlier, and it plans to cut 4,500 jobs. Its chairman of 16 years, Richard Parsons, announced on Friday that he is stepping down.

IBM's stock price hit an all-time high at the end of trading on Monday, at $200.66 per share, according to The Wall Street Journal. The price of IBM shares is about 24 percent higher than it was a year ago, according to the Associated Press.

'Watson' already has started working in health care. IBM formed a board on Friday that will explore how 'Watson' can help the health care industry. 'Watson' started working for WellPoint, one of the country's largest health insurers, in September.

This is not the first time that IBM has worked with Citigroup. In 1954, IBM reduced the time necessary for a cost-benefit analysis at Citigroup from 1,000 man-hours to 9.5 minutes, according to the Associated Press.

'Watson' first caught the nation's attention by earning more than three times than both of its competitors on 'Jeopardy!,' who had won 'Jeopardy!' before, last February. Ken Jennings, who came in a distant second, wrote next to his correct Final Jeopardy answer, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords."

As Computers Get Smart, We're Getting Dumb

Stephen Baker   |   September 29, 2011    1:14 PM ET

Rules are dumb. We all know it. Each of us has a magnificent brain, the most intricately engineered known artifact in the universe, and yet in a world of rules, we're not trusted to exercise our judgment.

For the last half century, it's been the computer that enforces countless inflexible rules for the masses. The bank's computer remorselessly levies a fee if the credit card payment comes in five minutes late. The insurance company's computer determines that the specialists we see are "off the plan" and automatically fires off hideously high invoices. We object to the rules and resent their senseless electronic administrators. We appeal to humans. Surely they'll understand.

But now things are turning around. Computers are learning about us, and focusing on exceptions. Humans, meanwhile, are binding themselves to inflexible rules. In other words, while machines grow smarter, we're getting dumber. This is especially clear in politics.

As IBM's Watson demonstrated in Jeopardy, today's advanced machines are evaluating evidence. Watson makes its bets based on probabilities. It's never 100 percent sure of anything. That's partly because it doesn't know or understand things the way we do. But still, it's a smart way to look at the world. If you're not sure about something, after all, you'll give it some analysis. That's what Watson does, and it's not a bad thing.

Humans are heading in the other direction. The game of politics, for example, is to find a disastrous example of someone's judgment. Say a governor implements an amnesty program for aged inmates. Several hundred are released, and one of them commits a horrible crime. The governor's opponent promptly promises to keep every single prisoner in jail to the last day of his or her sentence. Forget probabilities. Toss human judgment out the window. These people will all fall under the same rule. The system will operate like an old-fashioned computer.

Every time we use our judgment, we run the risk of making an error. That's life. And in areas in which errors are unforgivable, we hide behind rules. The rules are often idiotic. But they cannot be blamed. Rules are rules. The more we rely on them, the more we cede our intelligence and act like yesterday's machines.

JIM FITZGERALD   |   September 12, 2011    9:26 AM ET

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Enough with the fun and games. Watson is going to work.

IBM's supercomputer system, best known for trouncing the world's best "Jeopardy!" players on TV, is being tapped by one of the nation's largest health insurers to help diagnose medical problems and authorize treatments.

'Person' Of The Year?

Catharine Smith   |   June 2, 2011    6:38 PM ET

(JAKE COYLE, AP/THE HUFFINGTON POST) NEW YORK -- The "Jeopardy"-playing IBM computer Watson has been named person of the year by the Webby Awards.

The Webbys, which honor Internet achievement, announced their special honorees Thursday.

By JIM FITZGERALD   |   May 21, 2011    7:57 PM ET

YORKTOWN, N.Y. -- Some guy in his pajamas, home sick with bronchitis and complaining online about it, could soon be contributing to a digital collection of medical information designed to help speed diagnoses and treatments.

A doctor who is helping to prepare IBM's Watson computer system for work as a medical tool says such blog entries may be included in Watson's database.

  |   February 27, 2011    9:49 AM ET

Watson, the IBM super computer, last week beat out two of Jeopardy's most successful contestants on the television game show. Now officials at IBM are beginning to think about how Watson, which can answer questions posed to it in natural language by using algorithms to sort through reams and reams of information, might be able to help alleviate social problems.

Watson Is No Match for Humanity

John Maeda   |   February 23, 2011    2:58 PM ET

The Watson craze last week didn't fully hit me until my cab driver got lost and cheerily exclaimed in thickly-accented English, "Watson! Heeeeelp me!" I find it interesting how the so-called "artificial intelligence" (AI) systems I studied decades ago at MIT are on their way to becoming the Fonzies (Watson can tell you who that is) of our times. There are a few misconceptions about our "new overlord" that I attempted to clarify within the confines of my taxi ride lost in a suburb of DC. Here they are:

1/ The computer is smart as us, and dumb as us. When Watson slipped up with the Oreo/crossword puzzle answer of "19-teens" it was our fault for not teaching Watson what that means. And if you do a Web search for "19-teens" it's brutally clear that the invention of "Oreos" or other innocent games doesn't come first to mind in the darkness of the online world.

2/ The computer never makes mistakes -- or the same mistake over and over -- unless we let it do so. If left alone, like the proverbial broken record, a computer will do the exact same thing it has always done. There is a construct in computer programming called "the infinite loop" which enables a computer to do what no other physical machine can do -- to operate in perpetuity without tiring. In the same way it doesn't know exhaustion, it doesn't know when it's wrong and it can keep doing the wrong thing over and over without tiring.

3/ The computer still needs us to make the right decision. That little exercise you do countless times with the computer on a daily basis of clicking "Yes," "No," or "Cancel" is the important moment when you are able to prevent the computer from doing harm to you or to itself. Were it to decide to, say, show up on Jeopardy unannounced and without asking, that's a completely different story for Watson 5.0 -- a world where Watson can click its own Yes/No/Cancel buttons.

4/ The computer doesn't care -- at best it can act like it cares. In the movie WALL-E we see a trash collector robot that breaks out of its daily routine and discovers consciousness through love. Given that we humans still don't understand how love works (and doesn't work), it's impossible to imagine that we could ever program a computer to truly love the way that we do -- and yes -- in that special case we can't seem to press our own Yes/No/Cancel buttons.

The taxi driver seemed to nod in disinterest until he asked me, "So, where is this place you're looking for?" I solved the problem by pulling out my iPhone and asking my "other overlord", Google, how to get there. S/he delivered the right answer.

PS I suggested the cab driver visit one of the many sites running the original software systems "Eliza" from the 60s, and to tell Eliza, "The first modern crossword is published and Oreo cookies are introduced." When I tried that just now Eliza simply responded, "I see."

Man Vs. Machine: Watson Supercomputer A Reminder Of Education Shortcomings

John Rogers   |   February 22, 2011   12:40 PM ET

This week, IBM's supercomputer Watson had quite a successful appearance in the man-versus-machine Jeopardy! showdown. Even with a couple flubs, Watson was able to handily beat two of the trivia game show's most prolific winners. Unfortunately, Watson's winnings won't make up for cancellation of IBM's hefty contract with the California Department of Education if the company doesn't meet deadlines to fix the state's data system. Maybe that's not so important to IBM, but it's not a trivial matter for California students.

We'll admit to being excited -- even thrilled -- by Watson's sheer computing power. However, that impressive display makes it even more frustrating to witness California's failure to get a fully functional education data system from IBM. That system should be able to answer fairly straightforward questions, such as:

* How many students who enter elementary school with limited English skills are still designated as English Language Learners when they arrive in middle school?

* Do eighth-grade students enrolled in Algebra 1 perform better, on average, if their teacher has a credential in math?

* Which California high schools graduate the highest proportion of young women who move on to major in computer science in California public universities?

The system should be able to follow students from kindergarten through high school graduation and beyond. It can't.

IBM has been beset with delays and technical complications in its contract with the state to create the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS. The delays led Gov. Schwarzenegger last year to eliminate $6.8 million earmarked for the project. Of course, we don't know IBM's side. California's policy environment and historic disinterest in gathering good data might well contribute to delays. But, as we are fond of telling students, "No excuses."

A report out this week on states' capacity to collect data reveals that California compares poorly to other states. The Data Quality Campaign's sixth annual report reveals that half of the states are collecting the full 10 "essential elements" of data tracking. California was missing the ability to match student K-12 records with higher education.

Getting basic data is only an early step in a much longer process. Once CALPADS is in place, there are some difficult learning and political challenges. "States were looking at these 10 elements as a checklist and saying, "OK, we can collect these 10 things; we're done," Aimee Guidera, executive director of Data Quality Campaign, was quoted in Education Week. "We're saying, 'No, you're just beginning to be able to tap in and leverage the investments you've made.' "

Tapping into the full potential of data systems will require California to move beyond a narrow focus on outcomes data. Improving educational practice demands that we know more about the opportunities present in different schools and neighborhoods that lead to desired outcomes. That additional data must come from new sources, including students and educators, about the conditions that shape teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Even when IBM overcomes its technical difficulties for California, our data system will still be no Watson. Yet, just this one prototype machine has a lot to teach our practical-minded policymakers and communities. As stated on PBS' Inside Nova, "The significance of Watson goes beyond public perception... Watson isn't a single computer program, but a very large number of programs running simultaneously on different computers that communicate with each other."

Watson, in other words, isn't confined to preset programming of, for example, 10 conditions for this or that solution. To answer its questions, Watson seeks and communicates with new sources, penetrates the nuances of written and spoken language, and uses its power to arrive at trustworthy, best-bet answers.

Ultimately, the value of any super machine lies in whether humans can use it as a tool for problem solving and not confuse our basic tools with the solutions we seek. As IBM engineers complete California's longitudinal data system, California educators and community members need professional development and public engagement to access and reach beyond the technology and arrive at human decisions.

Watson's Jeopardy! Win: What Did We Discover?

Danny Groner   |   February 20, 2011    2:09 AM ET

This week a machine captured our attention as it battled for supremacy against two human competitors. Watson, the IBM computer, prevailed over Jeopardy's finest, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Jennings was quick to explain that "there's no shame in losing to silicon," he wrote on Slate. Watson and its similar prototypes will move on from here to big projects like improving health care delivery and smartphone technology. Scientists and technicians clearly proved something this week about ingenuity, progress, and communication. What's the big takeaway from this three-day experiment?

See the differences between man and machine: It was Watson's "human attributes that make him so compelling," says Joanna Weiss in The Boston Globe. But ultimately it behaved how you'd expect: heartlessly. The experiment showed "just how hard it would be to mimic the complexity of people," despite how actively we try to "turn our computers into friends." As the other contestants surrounded the machine at game's end to add some levity, "Watson was unfazed. He didn't get the joke, even though he took it like a man."

This was so utterly predictable: "Any seasoned horse handicapper easily could have predicted the outcome of the race," says a St. Petersburg Times editorial. Worries about a "takeover of human society are premature." For the humans, "there is no shame in coming up short against one of the world's foremost creators of computer technology," IBM. It didn't prove itself smarter than man, either,"just quicker. "The big winner in this contest was science."

We can't handle losing: So many people are "downplaying the win," says "R.M." in The Economist, arguing that it's no big deal and that man is still superior. It's "as if the man-made machine was a threat to our own self-worth." This rejection of Watson's accomplishment conveys"antipathy directed at scientists, academics, and experts," and "part of this modern anti-intellectualism stems from an unwillingness to accept our own inferiority." What this really shows is "our refusal to admit that America may not be uniquely great."

Is A Physician's Cyber-Assistant Next?

Michael L. Millenson   |   February 19, 2011    5:54 PM ET

IBM's Watson to be a doctor. Well, almost.

Fresh off a commanding victory on Jeopardy, IBM tactfully titled its knock-out, "Humans Win." That's because the company wants to show that its extraordinary computer can help humankind (and human customers), not merely humiliate mortal competitors.

As I wrote on a previous blog, IBM began eying the medical marketplace more than 45 years ago. IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Jr. -- son of the IBM CEO for whom this computer was named -- put it this way in 1965: "The widespread use [of computers] ... in hospitals and physicians' offices will instantaneously give a doctor or a nurse a patient's entire medical history, eliminating both guesswork and bad recollection, and sometimes making a difference between life and death."

Now, IBM is ready to turn that vision into reality. At heart, Watson is the world's most sophisticated question-answering machine. The company is collaborating with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician's assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. IBM will also work with Nuance Communications, Inc., famous for its Dragon software on the iPhone, to add voice recognition.

The "physician's assistant" designation should assuage a profession long suspicious of any brain other than its own. In 1973 -- four years after computers helped land a man on the moon -- an article in the Wall Street Journal declared that computerized medicine was spreading "at an unprecedented rate." But the piece ended by acknowledging that "many physicians are openly hostile to the whole concept of computer medicine, fearing that the machine may one day usurp duties."

The article was entitled, "Doctors' Helpers: Computers Play an Increasing Role in Diagnosing and Recommending Treatment of Medical Problems."

There's no doubt physicians are a lot more comfortable around computers these days. In fact, the University of Maryland physician working on the Watson project reportedly refers to the computer as a peer, as in "Dr. Watson." (The most famous Dr. Watson, of course, was John Watson, Sherlock Holmes' companion. This Watson is named after IBM CEO Thomas Watson, Sr.)

Watson, can you say, "Yes, Doctor"?

Watson, Come Here, I Need You!

  |   February 17, 2011    2:46 PM ET

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