You probably first heard of IBM’s cognitive supercomputer Watson when it bested human competitors on Jeopardy, but soon it may interact with you through the cloud. With the announcement today that Watson will be available to application developers, software can make use of Watson to add meaning to massive amounts of unstructured data, while interacting with humans in a way we understand.

The IBM Watson Developers Cloud distills over 40 technologies that make up Watson’s brain into an API (application programming interface) that can be called on the fly in any application requiring natural language processing or the interpretation of big data (or Big Data, as IBM prefers to address it).

Companies can either supply their own data or make use of third-party databases. IBM is also supplying a developer toolkit, educational materials, and a partnership with freelance firm Elance, which is creating a community of available Watson developers.

As a result of this announcement, IBM hopes to see massive innovation in cognitive computing applications.

Just as Jeopardy proved a test of Watson’s ability to interpret vague or deceptive language and cross-reference itself quickly to massive amounts of information, other fields provide their own challenges, and thus opportunity for Watson to learn. Watson has already been used extensively in the healthcare field, which has its own vocabulary and syntax that may not parallel how an end user would request information.

IBM provides three cloud “case studies” in health choices and personal shopping. In the first, e-commerce technology company Fluid is developing a personal shopper that can correlate information requests with vast store inventories. The Hippocrates app, on the other hand, allows professionals to navigate choices of medical devices. In that same field, health management firm Welltok is creating a healthcare “concierge” to engage users in informed but friendly conversations about health care choices.

CaféWell Concierge uses Watson to process large amounts of medical data and distill the essentials (Photo: IBM)

Cloud computing is big business, so it’s no coincidence that IBM chose to make this announcement the week Amazon hosts its annual conference dedicated to Amazon Web Services. However, Watson is unique in its natural language processing and ability to learn experimentally.

While we may see more of Watson in the future thanks to its new cloud API, currently developer access is open through “controlled invitation”. Pricing for the IBM Watson Developers Cloud is undetermined.

Earlier this year we saw Watson use to provide medical diagnosis and customer service.

In the video below, IBM executives and corporate partners discuss their vision for the IBM Watson Developers Cloud.

Source: IBM via NY Times