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Rennselaer Polytechnic Adds IBM's Watson to Research Team

Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) became the first university in the world to obtain a version of IBM's Watson computing system Wednesday.

Watson is best known as the computer that won Jeopardy! against two all-time champions of the popular game show. The Watson system at Rensselaer will store roughly the same amount of information as its Jeopardy!-winning predecessor with 15 terabytes of hard disk storage.

The decision to place a Watson system at RPI was based on the school's expertise in fields like Web science, big data, and artificial intelligence, according to IBM, which also reported it's hoping that this expertise will help expand the scope of Watson's utility.

IBM is already working to apply Watson to fields such as healthcare, where the company is collaborating with medical providers, hospitals and physicians to help doctors make faster, more accurate diagnoses. IBM is also working with financial institutions to help improve and simplify the banking experience.

RPI faculty and students will seek to further sharpen Watson's reasoning and cognitive abilities while broadening the volume, types, and sources of data Watson can draw upon to answer questions. Researchers will also look for ways to harness the power of Watson for driving new innovations in finance, information technology, and business analytics.

The research partnership comes as no surprise, as several RPI graduates were members of the team that designed Watson, according to IBM. Additionally, leading up to Watson's victory on Jeopardy!, Rensselaer was one of eight universities that worked with IBM in 2011 on the development of open architecture that enabled researchers to collaborate on the underlying capabilities that help to power Watson.

The Watson version to be placed with RPI at the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations is capable of being accessed by up to 20 faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students simultaneously, creating an "innovation hub" for the institutes' New York campus.

"The system will be an unprecedented platform to help students and faculty meet the challenge of our university's motto, 'Why Not Change the World?'" said RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson. "Access to the Watson system will enable new research in cognitive computing as it relates to a diverse range of scientific and engineering fields, and the experience of working on Watson will give our students an advantage as they compete for the best jobs in Big Data, analytics, and cognitive computing."

Founded in 1824, RPI is the nation's oldest technological research university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences.

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About the Author

Kevin Hudson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at [email protected].

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