Watson Goes to College

Computing Class Taps into IBM Supercomputer

IBM’s Watson computer system burst into the nation’s consciousness in 2011 with a dominant run on “Jeopardy!” Then Watson started appearing elsewhere — in hospitals, laboratories, and other research environments — as a data-crunching, analysis tool. Now, Watson is going to school.

Class began Jan. 5 for Watson when it became a part of Ashok Goel’s Computational Creativity courses. Through a special licensing arrangement, Goel, a professor in the School of Interactive Computing, and his students are enjoying extraordinary access to the computing power of Watson. Goel is hopeful that the Watson-based partnership between IBM and Georgia Tech has only just begun.

“It is my hope that once we have acquired the expertise, that IBM will give Watson to Georgia Tech for more extensive use,” Goel said.

Why are Goel and Georgia Tech interested in Watson? Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system that processes information like a human. Named for IBM’s founder Thomas J. Watson, the system is a “natural extension of what humans can do at their best.” As such, Watson is rapidly becoming a valuable resource for research and analysis.

Select, elite educational institutions across the U.S. have been granted licenses to use Watson in classroom settings. Goel is the Institute’s first licensee. He plans to use Watson as a resource capable of aiding human creativity in his courses. Goel is particularly interested in how humans make scientific discoveries and inventions. That interest has guided Goel’s approach to his courses.

Goel plans to load biological knowledge like public domain articles and relevant information from open access journals onto Watson. Loading such information will enable Goel’s students to find information in a targeted manner. Students will need that information to be readily accessible as they design problems in teams with a focus on environmental sustainability. Subsequently, Goel hopes students having that level of access to top expertise will allow for the development of practical, new solutions.

“Using artificial intelligence to provide access to biological knowledge to non-biologists can hopefully inspire new creativity,” Goel said. Creativity that Goel hopes stretches beyond the classroom. His courses feature an extensive primer on entrepreneurship. He’s hopeful such information plants a seed in the minds of his students.

“A team could start a company,” Goel said. “That’d happen in a perfect world.”

If Watson and Goel’s students have their way, that perfect world might not be far off.

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Tyler Sharp
College of Computing

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