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artificial intelligence

Friday Fun for the IT Crowd: What are Watson and DeepMind up to lately?

March 11, 2016

By Lisa Dare

Deep learning machines

Google’s AlphaGo AI project thrilled the world in January when it beat the world’s top player in the ancient strategy game Go. The kicker? The computer didn’t use a brute-force method to win the game—Go is far too complicated for even the fastest computer to process all possible outcomes—but rather deep learning technology that mimics human intuition.

Yesterday, AlphaGo, which was created by Google's DeepMind division, won again in a nail-biter of a match in Seoul, South Korea. The Verge quoted DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis, “We're very pleased that AlphaGo played some quite surprising and beautiful moves, according to the commentators, which was amazing to see.”

One of the astonishing things about AlphaGo is that the computer system got better through trial and error—in large part by competing against itself after it had learned what it could by playing humans.  

You can livestream the rest of the Go series starting tonight.

While DeepMind has captured the world’s attention with this feat, the team is more in the research and theory stage, whereas IBM is moving quickly to bring its Watson AI capabilities into mainstream products. 

Watson inches into consumer use

IBM has encouraged developers to create novel new projects with its Watson Developer Cloud, which provides APIs for programmers to tool around with Watson's capabilities. Many have developed applications that take advantage of Watson's cognitive learning capability, which allows it to interpret and analyze unstructured data.

By opening up Watson’s powers to third parties, IBM has fostered all kinds of uses, from the serious—cancer screening, for example—to the silly, like a robot concierge that entertains and helps hotel guests. Here are a few: 

Upping your online dating game. If the intricacies of online dating elude you, you might enjoy Connectidy, which can parse your social media accounts to learn about your personality. It uses the information to construct your profile and suggest dating matches. The service also Watson’s tone analyzer to suggest better language to use when pinging potential partners—based on their unique personalities.  

Powering a robot concierge. A Hilton in Virginia now has a new concierge, a robot that answers guests’ questions about the hotel and local attractions. Several other chains also have their own robot helpers, which do everything from make room deliveries to storing luggage. None of this is totally revolutionary, but it’s certainly the next step in a future world that looks like that of the The Jetsons.

Mixing a better cocktail. This has to be the ultimate hipster high: a cognitively crafted cocktail personalized to their taste by AI. At the South by Southwest festival, no less. 

Advancing healthcare. From reading your scans to predicting cancer probabilities to training doctors in HIT implementations, healthcare providers are finding uses for Watson’s capabilities, and IBM is making some big bets to enhance its power in this vertical. Expect to see lots of Watson-powered healthcare applications in the next few years.

What's next? 

Advances in artificial intelligence are speeding up, suggesting a very bright future for talented IT professionals.

Can't get enough artificial intelligence news? Explore these articles: 

IT Roundup: Big Data and AI approach a tipping point

Artificial Intelligence: The AI arms race accelerates

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