San Francisco is home to hundreds of artificial intelligence (AI) startups, with algorithm-powered Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Facebook also nearby. With IBM's announcement today that it's building a Watson hub in the city, the region will soon be able to boast even more AI brainpower.
Watson, IBM's cognitive computing platform and 2011 Jeopardy champion, is already putting its machine intelligence to use at hundreds of partner companies, according to Big Blue. Its new presence in San Francisco will now put it closer to many other startups, developers and venture capital firms working to "take cognitive computing into new markets," IBM said.
Aiming to develop its thinking computer's potential even further, IBM is also releasing a raft of new APIs (application programming interfaces) to encourage developers to embed Watson's intelligence into new applications, products and services. The APIs expand on Watson's abilities to understand intent and context in natural language communications, glean insights from images and videos on social media and provide spoken services in a variety of languages.
'Very Positive for Cognitive Systems'
"I think today's announcements are very important in terms of two aspects," David Schubmehl, research director for content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems research at the analyst firm IDC told us.
First, Watson's new San Francisco hub "will enable IBM and many of the Silicon Valley startups to collaborate on the Watson platform. I think this is very positive for cognitive systems in general as more companies begin to embed this kind of computing in their applications," Schubmehl said.
Second, the rollout of new APIs "extends Watson's capabilities into new areas and in essence provides a broader platform upon which partners and enterprises can develop cognitive applications," he added.
Building that broader platform will be important for IBM, which -- like other legacy tech companies faced with the rise of cloud computing -- has been struggling to make the transition from a provider of enterprise hardware to a leader in digital services. Watson is a likely key to making that happen. In fact, the company last year invested $1 billion "to accelerate the commercialization of IBM Watson, bringing cognitive computing to more clients and partners in more industries."
Venture capital funding for AI technologies more than tripled last year, and many companies working in that area are exploring ways to take AI to the next level commercially.
'Democratizing the Power of Data'
In today's announcement, IBM noted that the Watson platform has grown in two years from a single API to more than 25 powered by more than 50 technologies. By releasing new and expanded capabilities for developers to build on, the company aims to speed up Watson's impact on real-world businesses and applications.
"We believe that by opening Watson to all, and continuously expanding what it can do, we are democratizing the power of data, and with it innovation," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president for IBM Watson, in a statement.
The new tools for developers will "make it easy to embed Watson APIs in any form factor from mobile devices, cloud services, and connected systems," IBM said. The company is also previewing a new IBM Watson Knowledge Studio that will bring together all its machine learning and text analytics capabilities in a single place, "making it simpler for line of business or general subject matter experts to use their own industry and organizational expertise to easily and rapidly train their cognitive applications."
Located in the South of Market district of San Francisco, the new Watson hub is scheduled to open in early 2016. In addition to providing a dedicated space for the company's Watson team, the facility will also serve as the new global headquarters for IBM Commerce, described as "a high-growth industry opportunity for IBM and Watson."
Image credit: Watson product shot with logo from IBM.