PITTSBURGH—A new computer science course offered this fall at Carnegie Mellon University will give students unprecedented access to IBM’s Watson cognitive technology as they develop mobile applications for the system, which famously beat Jeopardy! champions in a 2011 on-air showdown.
The IBM Watson Group is working with Carnegie Mellon and six other universities to offer cognitive computing courses this fall that will give students the technical knowledge and hands-on experience they need to create new applications for Watson.
"The home run we’re looking for is to add our vision to IBM’s technology to create an application that is useful and worthy of being spun off as a product,” said Eric Nyberg, a professor in CMU’s Language Technologies Institute (LTI) and a leading researcher in question-answering computer systems.
Nyberg and his students began working with IBM on Watson in 2007. They also collaborated with IBM on the Open Advancement of Question-Answering Initiative, which created system architectures and methodologies that support systems such as Watson that can understand questions as expressed by people and search through massive databases to respond appropriately.
Nyberg said the new course, “Intelligent Information Systems featuring IBM’s Watson,” is open to both undergraduate and graduate students and will focus on mobile applications of Watson. Teaching the course with Nyberg will be Alan Black, an LTI professor with expertise in mobile speech interfaces, and Norman Sadeh, a professor in the Institute for Software Research who is an expert in mobile devices.
“Of course, the students are probably smarter than we are when it comes to mobile apps,” Nyberg added. Applications undertaken by the class might be related to health care or energy, but he said he is interested to see what other ideas might be hatched by students in the course. Several ideas may be pursued initially before the class settles on one application to more fully develop.
IBM will provide a dedicated copy of Watson that the class can access via the cloud and integrate into their mobile application. Students will be able to customize their Watson, adding text or other data and training the system, although they won’t be able to alter or add any algorithms to the system.
In addition to Carnegie Mellon, courses featuring Watson are being offered this fall by The Ohio State University, New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan and University of Texas in Austin.
The initiative is part of an ongoing effort to expand and strengthen student skills and understanding of big data and analytics in order to meet the growing demand for highly skilled analytics workers. According to research firm Gartner, Inc., smart machines will be the most disruptive change ever brought about by information technology, and can make people more effective, empowering them to do “the impossible.”
“By putting Watson in the hands of tomorrow’s innovators, we are unleashing the creativity of the academic community into a fast-growing ecosystem of partners who are building transformative cognitive computing applications,” said Michael Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson Group. “This is how we will make cognitive the new standard of computing across the globe: by inspiring all catalysts of innovation, from university campuses to start-up offices, to take Watson's capabilities and create apps that solve major challenges.”
The LTI and the Institute for Software Research are both part of Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked School of Computer Science, which is celebrating its 25th year. Follow the school on Twitter @SCSatCMU.