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How Watson and Cognitive Computing are Changing Healthcare and Customer Service

Illustration by Mark Allen Miller

IBM Watson* technology is about to change your life. Because cognitive computing is altering how information is gathered, analyzed and presented, Watson is becoming your decision-making ally. In its latest announcement, IBM is pairing Watson with organizations to bring you improved customer service and information to help make intelligent decisions.

Two years ago, Watson made its reputation on “Jeopardy!” by besting the human champions. Since then, Watson has become faster and smarter, enabling IBM to offer Watson-based technologies for medical and consumer-based services. This breakthrough in cognitive computing wouldn’t be possible without Power Systems* servers.

Think Like a Human

Cognitive computing technology allows Watson to read and digest material, understand natural language and present confidence-weighted, evidence-based responses. On one level, cognitive computing simulates the behavior of the human mind around an aspect of cognition, such as understanding language and being able to answer a question. Watson’s ability to think “adds value over and above traditional computing techniques,” says Rob High Jr., CTO, IBM Watson Solutions.

“Watson puts content into context, delving into the data and coming back with a relevant response.”
—Stephen Gold, vice president, worldwide marketing and sales operations, IBM Watson Solutions

On another level, cognitive computing enhances human cognitive processes. “The value of Watson isn’t just that it responds to questions rapidly,” High explains. Watson’s answers can generate a new set of questions, giving insight into opportunity or risk. “By highlighting something sitting in our blind spot, Watson enables us to think about a problem differently,” he continues.

Cognitive computing is critical to managing the superconvergence occurring between mobile, social, cloud and analytics. “The conventional approach that computers take only works with structured information and doesn’t lend itself to this superconvergence,” says Stephen Gold, vice president, worldwide marketing and sales operations, IBM Watson Solutions. Traditional computing isn’t designed or optimized for the mobile and social big data experience, Gold notes.

Watson uses its cognitive skills to navigate the complexity of human speech and analyze vast amounts of disparate, unstructured data. It takes in content from various sources including surveys, customer service logs and technician notes. Watson understands the information found in forums and blogs. “Watson puts content into context, delving into the data and coming back with a relevant response,” Gold says.

Watson learns from the results it generates. Just like Watson, IBM is learning, too. “We’ve evolved our understanding of how this cognitive-style technology will be put to work, such as data-intensive industries where time and accuracy to a response are of great importance,” Gold says. “But we’re also finding that Watson has an extended range of capabilities, allowing it to work in, amongst and across various industries for a more diverse set of use cases.”

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at



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