Ever since IBM's Watson won against human champions Jeopardy in 2011, Big Blue has been betting big on its cognitive supercomputer. On Tuesday, IBM officially opened the doors to the new headquarters of its latest business arm, IBM Watson, in New York City.
Situated on 51 Astor Place right in the heart of the Big Apple's Silicon Alley, where technology companies, startups and college campuses abound, the IBM Watson Global Headquarters spans 12 stories high and will initially house 600 Watson employees. IBM hopes that by placing Watson in a neighborhood filled with developers, entrepreneurs and academics, businesses and universities will be encouraged to integrate its cognitive computing technology into products, services and research projects.
"Being part of Silicon Alley is very exciting," says IBM Watson Group vice president Ed Harbour. "We're near NYU and Cooper Union. You always want to be close to where you can pull talent from universities. We're also not that far from Columbia and St. John's. The East Village is going through quite a revitalization. This is the place for Watson. We represent the new IBM."
In addition to New York City, IBM also plans to open five other global headquarters, called Watson Client Experience Centers, in London, Dublin, Sao Paulo, Singapore and Melbourne.
Watson, which uses natural language processing and machine learning to process massive amounts of data and gain insights, and learn from every interaction, has been gaining momentum, with IBM saying it has around a hundred new clients worldwide using Watson as a platform to develop new applications.
In Australia, financial planners for ANZ Global Wealth use Watson to deliver better financial advice faster and more efficiently, while Deakin University is developing a student engagement advisor app based on Watson to provide advice to Deakin's 50,000 students, ranging from where a certain building is and to what courses they need to enroll. In Thailand, the Bumrungrad International Hospital, healthcare workers use Watson to provide better treatment plans for cancer patients based on each patient's profile and existing research. And Watson is also expanding its knowledge of language. In Spain, IBM has partnered with CaixaBank to teach Watson Spanish, with the goal of providing Watson-delivered customer service.
"This is the first wave of partners," Stephen Gold, IBM's vice president of Watson solutions business, says. "It's a milestone toward seeing Watson take hold commercially in a meaningful way."
In January, IBM formally established IBM Watson as a new business, pledging $1 billion in funding, with $100 million dedicated to investing in startups offering Watson-based products and services. IBM hopes to fuel Watson as the operating system of choice for cognitive computing, and to do that, the company needs to encourage other businesses to build upon its artificial intelligence technology.
Following the opening of IBM Watson's New York City headquarters, a number of startups have also unveiled their new Watson-powered apps with purposes ranging from providing better travel experiences to tightening online security and linking fundraisers and beneficiaries.
WayBlazer is one such app and was developed by Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity and Kayak.com. The app rides on Watson's back to deliver customized travel advice based on data input by users. For instance, if a user enters the search "summer trip to Bali with family," WayBlazer might suggest a family-friendly beach with shallow waters for children to swim in. If the beach is a good bet, the app will provide more detailed information, such as the weather forecast and the best spots to hold a picnic on.