Watson at Rensselaer

Jan 31, 2013

Flanked by the avatar of IBM's Watson computer, IBM Research Scientist Dr. Chris Welty (left) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student Naveen Sundar discuss potential new ways the famous computer could be used. IBM donated a version of its Watson system to Rensselaer, making it the first university in the world to receive such a system. Rensselaer students and faculty will explore new uses for Watson and ways to deepen its cognitive computing capabilities
Credit IBM

In 2011, IBM's Watson supercomputer made national television history when it appeared on the "Jeopardy" program and knocked out two of the show's top champions. Now, the computer is in college.

RPI is the first university in the world to receive a Watson computer system from IBM - Just like the flesh-and-blood students who will work on it, Watson left home to sharpen its skills. Course work will include English and math. It will spend three years in Troy.

Artificial intelligence researchers at RPI want to do things like improve Watson's mathematical ability and help it quickly figure out the meaning of new or made-up words. They want to improve its ability to handle the torrent of images, videos and emails on the Web, the sort of unstructured information that is overwhelmingly fueling the data boom.

The RPI machine will have 15 terabytes of stored data, equivalent to the “Jeopardy” unit, and allow 20 users to access it simultaneously.

Officials with IBM and RPI say Watson's college tenure also will prepare RPI students for jobs in cognitive science and "big data," a field where demand is quickly outpacing supply. John Kolb, RPI's chief information officer, said he would like the next generation of the school's technology graduates "to help IBM take Watson to the next level."