At this stage, what can’t IBM’s Watson computer do? It has won “Jeopardy,” been used for cancer genomics research, and some of its culinary creations have made their way to the kitchens of everyone from the casual cook to the most experienced chef. Now, IBM’s cognitive computing system is learning Arabic. On Tuesday, IBM and Abu-Dhabi-based Mubadala Development Company announced that the supercomputer’s cloud-based cognitive capabilities are coming to the Middle East and North Africa.
As Watson’s knowledge base continues to expand, IBM sees an opportunity for its supercomputer to get smarter and continue to play a role in a wide range of sectors like healthcare and education.
“When the Watson Group was announced back in January 2014, we had a vision that was really based on Watson’s unique ability to do question-and-answer, to take unstructured information and extract relevant pieces from that information,” Stephen Gold, vice president of the IBM Watson Group, told FoxNews.com. “Since then, Watson has grown pretty considerably, with 26 different cognitive services. Each new service impacts different industries in different geographies.”
IBM’s partnership with Mubadala, the investment branch of the government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, mirrors that with SoftBank Telecom Corp., which ushered in Watson’s introduction to Japan back in February. Beyond Arabic, English, and Japanese, Watson can process Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, making the supercomputer quite the polyglot.
The Middle East and the broader MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is distinguished as the world’s second fastest-growing information technology market, and the two companies envision healthcare to be a major focus of Watson’s role in the region, much as it has been in the U.S. Gold said that, while the “ink is barely dry” a team is already being put in place for the joint venture between the two companies – which has yet to be named.
As Watson becomes increasingly more knowledgeable and its global presence get more defined, where does Gold see IBM’s artificial intelligence technology moving forward?
“Five years from now? I think we certainly see that as the language continues to proliferate and Watson’s grasp on it grows, language will become something of a secondary thought. The form of data that Watson can process is mostly text-based, but as we announced with our announcement with Ted.com, Watson is going to start taking on rich media — video.”
In March, IBM Watson’s acquisition of AlchemyAPI, a startup that provides cognitive computing software for natural language processing, increased the computer’s facility with language. Gold asserted that an extension of “image analytics” will mark the next wave in the supercomputer’s capabilities.
There are currently “several dozen new Watson services in development” from a “R and D (research and development) point of view,” Gold added.
“I think that, by and large, every man, woman, and child on the planet will be interacting with a cognitive environment in some capacity over the next five years,” he suggested. “I do believe that this technology will become persistent throughout everything you and I as individuals and professionals do.”