IBM’s Watson supercomputer learns Japanese, set for robot launch

IBM’s Watson supercomputer is learning Japanese as the tech giant attempts to extend the reach of its supercomputing technology.

Watson, famous for its appearance on the quiz show "Jeopardy," is at the center of an alliance between IBM and Japanese telecom heavyweight SoftBank, which was announced on Tuesday.

IBM and SoftBank will bring new Watson-powered apps and services to Japan, according to a statement released by the two companies. Specifically, the firms will focus on cloud-based services in industries such as education, banking, healthcare, insurance, and retail.

Watson technologies could also be embedded in the likes of desktops, tablets, mobile devices, and robots in Japan. For example, SoftBank will use Watson artificial intelligence in its empathetic robot Pepper that goes on sale in Japan this month.

"As the world's third largest economy with the second most patents in the world, we feel this innovative economy holds the potential to unlock Watson for many industries across the Japanese market," John Gordon, vice president of IBM’s Watson Group, told, in an e-mail.

The partnership involves the acquisition of new language skills by Watson.

“The Japanese language presented IBM researchers with a number of unique challenges to overcome, most notably the first time the Watson system has learned a language that relies on characters not shared by the Western alphabet," added Paul Yonamine, general manager at IBM Japan, in a statement.

Last year IBM enhanced Watson in an attempt to speed up the pace of scientific breakthroughs.

Watson’s ability to trawl vast troves of data has already been targeted at the healthcare sector via partnerships with insurance firm WellPoint and New York’s famous Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Care Center. In 2014 IBM announced an investment of more than $1 billion in its Watson Group in an attempt to boost development of cloud-based applications and services.

The supercomputer is also being used to help U.S. military personnel make the transition back to civilian life.

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