IBM’s supercomputer Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system. It is capable of answering questions in a natural language. Watson has the ability to access more than 200 million pages of information. This information comes from a variety of sources from books, encyclopaedias, to other databases.

IBM has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet and asked developers to figure out a way to get the vast supercomputer onto the small mobile screen. This could be in the form of apps like a more advanced Siri-like voice recognition system or tools that can accurately translate text.

“Game changing proposition…”

Mike Rhodin, senior VP of IBM Watson Group said: “The power of Watson in the palm of your hand is a game-changing proposition, so we’re calling on mobile developers around the world to start building cognitive computing apps infused with Watson’s intelligence.”

This challenge to developers comes in the context of IBM attempting to launch Watson as a viable business. So far IBM has invested £601m in Watson and towards the end of 2013 announced it would open up the system to developers.

More than 1,500 individuals and organisations have already contacted IBM with suggestions for apps. Three of those suggestions are going to market later this year, one app intends to transform consumer shopping experiences and another aims to help hospitals procure better devices.

Competition opens 31st march

Officially the Watson Mobile Challenge opens on the 31st of March and it is at that point that developers can submit concepts and ideas. Toward the end of 2014 IBM will select finalists and turn their ideas into reality in the form of working software.

There are some predictions about possible applications for Watson. Medical information doubles every five years and so Watson, with its ability to sift through vast amounts of information, might find a job in that profession. The software would allow doctors to offer patients more treatment options and it would also help researchers and potentially lead to breakthroughs.

Currently Watson is being used in a medical setting. In New York, at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Watson helps doctors make decisions about treatment options for patients suffering from lung cancer. It’s seen huge support and according to IBM business chief Manoj Saxena, 90% of nurses who use the software now follow its suggestions.

Educational application

It is not just the medical profession that could benefit from Watson but also the education system. In this field IBM believes that the software could help teachers identify an individual pupil’s needs and allow teachers to offer specific learning packages for each child.

Watson lost weight

When Watson first came into existence the software system was the size of a bedroom. Now however it has slimmed down and is about the size of three stacked pizza boxes. Watson can also be accessed from the cloud meaning that the system can be accessed from anywhere with internet access.

Watson is quick, intelligent, and can process 500gbs of information every second – equivalent to one million books. These abilities have been tested and in 2011 Watson appeared on the TV game show Jeopardy. Watson was not allowed to access the internet, and after a rocky start, the system won the $1m prize.

Watson is an exciting piece of software and it is interesting that IBM have opened up its commercial application to generic developers. It promises to be technology that could really benefit the every day user and with potential applications like a translator function, Watson could quickly become a household name.