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IBM Watson Acquires Cognea To Offer Conversational Virtual Personalities

Jim Probasco

IBM (NYSE: IBM) confirmed its acquisition of artificial intelligence startup, Cognea, via a blog post Tuesday.

Cognea offers a stable of virtual assistants that communicate with people via relatable personalities.

Depending on the user, IBM said, Cognea’s virtual assistants would focus on “creating depth of personality,” so that “a new level of interaction that is far beyond today’s ‘talking smartphones,’” would be achieved.

The Register viewed the ‘talking smartphones’ comment as a jab at Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana competing virtual personal assistants to IBM’s Watson.

IBM’s Watson is an artificially intelligent supercomputer that gained notoriety by beating two former Jeopardy champions, thanks to its banks of POWER7 processors and the 15TB copy of Wikipedia in its RAM.

Now, in addition to the ability to answer questions at lightning speed, Watson will have the capacity to ‘relate’ to users in a style befitting the occasion and the user. As IBM’s Michael Rhodin put it, “At IBM, we’re working on a host of technologies – a set of conversational services – aimed at enriching the relationship between you and the system.”

Rhodin added, “These conversational services range from helping systems understand us as individuals to selecting the appropriate words and responses that are most meaningful to each of us.”

Ultimately, of course, the plan involves monetizing Watson by offering services to as many different individuals and organizations in as large a variety of settings as possible.

For IBM this engenders the development of cognitive computing in which computers – in this case, Watson - would carry on realistic and meaningful conversations in what IBM said it saw as “more human ways.”

In the blog post, the company described four categories of components in the Watson Platform: Perceiving, Reasoning, Relating and Learning. The role played by acquisitions such as Cognea had mostly to do with the Relating component.

IBM indicated that it intended to broaden the reach of Watson into a number of areas, including business partners, entrepreneurs, universities and enterprise. The mechanism through which these entities would be able to access the Watson Platform would be the Watson Developer Cloud.

Among the potential uses for conversational services via Watson, IBM suggested everything from virtual personal assistants to health coaches, companions for elderly people, investment advisors, tutors, travel agents, customer care agents and even virtual personal shoppers.

At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.

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