Is this the start of the AI revolution?

by John Maguire02 Nov 2015
New computer technology with the ability to “think” has reached Australia – and is already being used by businesses.

IBM’s computer program Watson – named after the company’s first CEO – is a billion dollar program in terms of its development.

IBM Australia’s managing director Kerry Purcell described the program as “a computing technology that can think”; scientists around the globe are hailing it as the beginning of “the cognitive era”.

Watson has now arrived in Australia, where it is being used to deliver competitive advantages across industries.

IBM has opened a centre in Melbourne to allow clients to utilise Watson. The centre is one of seven that have opened worldwide.

“The [industries] where we're seeing early adoption is in healthcare, in financial services, industrial applications and security and government type applications,” Purcell said.

The ABC reported that ANZ bank is using the program within its global wealth team to provide individual financial advice.

Meanwhile, engineers at Woodside Energy have implemented Watson to gain insights from previous data collections, and Melbourne’s Deakin University is the first in the world to use it in the education industry.

“Watson is really a critical part of how we can approach a new era — we will see information as an asset to help to shape this new still forming digital landscape,” Deakin's chief digital officer William Confalonieri told the ABC.

In the healthcare industry, Watson is being used to design individual treatment plans for patients.

Like a human employee would, Watson is programmed to think, solve problems, and learn from its own mistakes.

“Watson contains 15 million pages of journal text. 200 text books — it's giving the clinician information at their fingertips and brings back a recommended treatment for this patient, married around their attributes,” Annette Hicks from IBM's healthcare team said.

IBM claims that 80% of the world’s data lacks structure – but Watson is able to resolve this by mining that data to think and problem solve.

The program was launched in 2011 and hailed as the start of a new era of “cognitive computing”. It then competed on US television show Jeopardy! where it won against the quiz show’s two all-time champions.

Watson is now learning three new languages and being used in business, government and healthcare around the globe.

“Watson is like a person — it needs training, explanation, direction to be better,” Deakin’s Confalonieri told the ABC.

“When you ask more questions and train it Watson is becoming more intelligent. Students were part of the journey – helping Watson to be smarter.”

The program has been described as a combination of Google and Siri, with a brain that lives in the cloud. 

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