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    IBM Aims to Democratize Watson Services via the Cloud

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    At an IBM World of Watson conference this week IBM announced the IBM Watson Data Platform as part of an effort to democratize access to cognitive computing services enabled by the IBM Watson cloud service.

    Rob Thomas, vice president of products for analytics for IBM, says the IBM Watson Data Platform, built around a three-tier architecture deployed as a set of cloud services, provides IT organizations with access to a core set of data ingestion and object storage services and an IBM Watson Machine Learning service based on implementation of the Apache Spark in-memory computing framework they can use to model Watson applications. Thomas says:

    “We’re using Apache Spark as an execution engine,” says Thomas.

    Via Watson application programming interfaces (APIs), Thomas says, the core Watson service in the cloud can then inspect that data in a way that over time allows organizations to build Watson applications that continue to learn as new data is added to the system.

    Using this approach, IBM is trying to make the Watson cloud service pervasively available to almost any IT organization. As part of that effort, IBM announced that IBM MobileFirst for Apple iOS can now use Watson cloud services to build conversational bots that can be embedded in Apple mobile computing devices.  IBM also announced this week it has created Watson Virtual Agent software that organizations can use to embed bots inside customer-facing applications, along with a Watson service for analyzing video content. IBM this week also announced Watson services aimed at marketers interested in optimizing customer experiences.

    In the meantime, IBM continues to highlight a steady stream of Watson applications developed by third-party IT organizations. General Motors has announced it has developed an OnStar Go application for its vehicles that is infused with Watson cognitive computing capabilities. Autodesk is making use of Watson to enhance its customer support services. Staples plans to use Watson within an EasyButton ordering system. Pearson is working to embed Watson capabilities within digital learning platforms aimed at college students and their professors. Teva Pharmaceuticals revealed it is using Watson to create a system for managing patients experiencing chronic pain. Slack, a collaboration service delivered via the cloud, is making use of IBM Watson to add support for conversational bots. Finally, The Weather Company, a unit of IBM, revealed it has used Watson to create a conversational bot for Facebook Messenger.

    At this juncture, it’s pretty clear that IBM is making a significant amount of progress in terms of embedding Watson cognitive computing services within a broad range of applications that will change the way end users interact with IT. Thomas says it should also be apparent that, given the challenges associated with embedding the analytics and accumulating the data required to drive those applications, most new applications that make use of cognitive computing are going to be built and deployed in the cloud.

    Of course, IBM is not the only cloud service provider aiming to make various forms of machine learning and cognitive computing services available to developers. But IBM did set out to prove this week that it is conclusively the furthest along in terms of making those services broadly available.

    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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