IBM Offers Up $5M Watson Solutions Prize

By Michael Vizard  |  Print this article Print
IBM cognitive computing

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told partners that now is the time to get on board with cognitive applications because they will fundamentally change every field.

At the TED2016 conference this week, IBM and XPRIZE, a non-profit organization that designs and manages public competitions to create innovative IT solutions, announced that they will jointly award a $5 million prize to the team that best shows how humans can collaborate with cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) applications, such as IBM Watson.

With the IBM Watson A.I. XPRIZE: A Cognitive Computing Competition, the goal is to accelerate the adoption of cognitive computing applications at a time when many are questioning the relationship between man and machines. While there’s no doubt that AI applications have advanced rapidly in recent years, there is a lot of concern regarding how these IT solutions will affect the global economy. The World Economic Forum, for example, forecasts that as many as 5 million jobs might be eliminated by 2020 due to the growing use of AI. To combat that perception, IBM is enlisting the aid of a non-profit organization led by Peter Diamandis, the popular author of books such as "Abundance: The Future Is Better than You Think."

The ultimate winner of the competition will be chosen in 2020—when, in addition to receiving the $5 million prize, they and two other finalists will be invited to make a presentation at the TED conference. Every year leading up to that conference, IBM will also invite contestants to present their solutions at an IBM Watson conference.

Speaking at the IBM PartnerWorld Leadership 2016 conference this week, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told partners that now is the time to get on board in terms cognitive applications because they will fundamentally change every profession and business. In fact, with that goal in mind, IBM agreed to acquire Truven, a provider of health care analytics software, for $2.6 billion.

Since its launch at the beginning of 2011, IBM Watson now consists of 32 functions spanning more than 50 technologies that are accessible via APIs, Rometty said. All told, there are 80,000 developers around the globe working on Watson applications and some 5,000 companies have been started to specifically take advantage of this opportunity, she said.

"Watson is not just AI," Rometty said. "It's also about combining natural language processing with domain-specific knowledge."

For partners, that means they don't necessarily need to know how every function inside Watson works. Instead, they can pull together content surrounding a specific domain inside an application that, in turn, invokes Watson functionality in the cloud using fairly standard APIs. While not easy to build, it is these classes of applications that will drive the future growth of IBM and its partners, Rometty said.

IBM is making a multi-billion dollar bet that the benefits of cognitive applications will not only include finding, for example, cures for cancers, but also improving the overall human condition. The next challenge will be identifying precisely where to apply cognitive computing applications to achieve that goal and then figuring out how exactly to bring them to market.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.