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USC Students Compete To Find Innovative Uses for IBM's Watson

Two years ago Watson, IBM's cognitive computing software, bested the competition on the popular TV game show Jeopardy!. Now the company is turning its attention to young business and engineering students to develop innovative ways for the technology to address big data problems in fields ranging from healthcare to human resources, and beyond.

With more than 100 students participating on 24 teams, IBM recently launched its IBM Watson Academic Case Competition at the University of Southern California (USC). Business and engineering school students worked as teams to develop a compelling business case for Watson that would address "pressing business and societal challenges," according to an IBM release. Teams received a crash course in Watson's capabilities, and were then given 48 hours to come up with a new use for the technology, along with a cogent business plan. The teams presented their ideas to IBM executives, local business leaders, and school officials.

"Partnering with universities such as USC gives IBM a unique opportunity to tap into the minds of our next-generation of leaders, whose training, skills, and ideas for changing the world are all forward-thinking and based on a desire to make a meaningful impact," said Manoj Saxena , IBM general manager of Watson Solutions, in a prepared statement. "These students see what Watson is doing right now and think--how else will cognitive computing impact my life and career in the years to come? To us, that's exactly the mindset that should be fueling IBM innovations, and the very reason we host Watson Academic Case Competitions."

Judging for the contest was broken into two rounds, and focused on four criteria:

  • Vision: how well the team articulated and supported their case;
  • Feasibility: how likely the proposed solution could be brought to market;
  • Capabilities: the extent to which the solution leverages Watson; and
  • Presentation: how compelling was the final case.

The winning teams for the USC competition included:

  • First place, Legal Research: Let Watson do the Research for Your Next Legal Case--The winning team focused on using Watson's computing and machine learning capabilities to research and prepare for legal cases, as well as use existing data to determine probable outcomes based on available evidence;
  • Second Place, Employee Training: Watson Uncovers the Keys to Success for Your Employees--This team proposed HR departments use Watson to crunch data on employee interests and aptitudes, as well as HR needs and goals, to recommend professional development options that increase employee satisfaction and retention; and
  • Third Place, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Watson Helps Doctors Find Patients--The third place team identified a use for Watson to preemptively identify patients that may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by piecing together personal data with other items such as risk factors, to increase the quality of care.

According to the university, this year's competition was so successful student teams had to be put on a waiting list once the 24-team limit had been reached. Sponsors of the event said they anticipate next year's registration numbers could top 500.

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