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Watson the supercomputer heads to RPI


Nearly two years after an IBM supercomputer named Watson stole the spotlight on Jeopardy! by beating two human champions, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy will become the first university in the world to receive its own version of Watson, to help further computer science research.

Since its starring role on the game show, Watson has been put to use in the healthcare industry to help make sense of complex medical data, and now IBM says they want to send the supercomputer back to school at RPI.

Dr. John Kelly is IBM’s Senior Vice President and Director of Research. He’s also an RPI graduate and member of the school’s board of trustees.

He says Watson marks the beginning of a new era of "cognitive computing," where humans and computers will work together to sift through and make sense of massive sets of data.

“The world is awash in data," says Kelly. "It’s called big data, huge data, fast data, you name it. But there is more data than we can possibly deal with.”

Several RPI graduates were part of the team that developed Watson, including Dr. Christopher Welty, an IBM research scientist.

"There's no question that companies like IBM, that have been around for a long time, really need the new wave of students coming in, who have been exposed to these [cognitive computing] ideas," says Welty.

The company has also recently partnered with students from Cornell and the University of Rochester to help make Watson more relevant to the business world, but RPI will be the first university to get its own copy of the computer.

IBM is giving Watson to RPI as part of its Shared University Research awards program. Neither the company nor the school is disclosing the size of the grant.

For more from the Innovation Trail visit their website at www.innovationtrail.org.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.