IBM showcases development progress in cognitive assistants

IBM's cognitive computing system Watson will be integrated into the company's new social business tool, Verse, where it will act like just another contact that employees can pose queries to as part of their social network.

The capabilities of the system when paired with Verse were touched on at IBM's ConnectED conference in Orlando, Florida, with director of product management and collaboration solutions, Kramer Reeves, telling IT Pro: "Our initial vision was a degree of personalisation and focus on the individual, so we created an aggregation and a presentation of alerts and chat and instant messaging and meetings and email, for that particular individual.

"At the same time we felt like that individual will have the reverse opportunity to share out to individuals or to groups. I think Watson can help in both of those fashions."

Watson, when integrated into the Verse social hub, can be included in email threads and will have the ability to learn and adapt to the preferences of the individual user.

"Once you have the concept of, 'here's my corpus of knowledge,' whether I ask that question or seek that fact through an email solicitation, an activity stream, a discussion forum, or a Q&A function... Watson's going to be an entity that sits within your unified communication and you'll be able to ask it a question and it will respond just like anyone else in your buddy list," Jeff Schick, general manager of enterprise social solutions at IBM, said.

A proof of concept of Julia, a same-time cognitive computing assistant, was also demoed at the conference, with Werner Geyer, research manager for the data science user experience team at Cambridge Research Centre, explaining the methodology behind such a tool as used in a workplace environment.

One example was when new hires need to be coached in areas such as office culture and small tasks such as setting up their first meeting, and cognitive assistants can detect a "teachable moment" without the intervention of a human member of staff.

Answers would be derived from the system's own knowledge base, an external database or, if an answer cannot be found, from crowd-sourcing information and expertise from other team members.

Like Watson, Julia would be able to learn and remember things such as personalised information for individual users. The system would also appear with a profile on IBM Connections with a functional ID.

This comes at the same time IBM announced it's new cookbook, 'Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson', based around cookery experiments done with the computing system.

Last March, Watson was also used by the New York Genome Centre to aid research into treating aggressive forms of brain cancer in patients.

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

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