IBM wants Watson in a smartphone with app challenge

IBM is throwing open the cognitive computing power of Watson to mobile developers, setting up a new challenge to create apps that take advantage of the supercomputer's natural language processing, machine-learning, and ability to process huge qualities of data in seconds. The IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, which will be accepting entries over the next three months, is looking for the best consumer and enterprise applications for the supercomputer that beat Jeopardy, as it tries to encourage adoption of its APIs.

IBM began offering Watson APIs back in November 2013, turning the system into a digital brain that can learn from whatever data the developer feeds into it. Set to launch this year are personal health assistant apps from Welltok and MD Buyline, which can assess symptoms and recommend personalize treatments, as well as a personal shopper that will be used by The North Face.

Three entries from the Mobile Developer Challenge will be selected, and go on to work with IBM Interactive Experience to get design consulting and other support from the company so as to commercialize their ideas.

The computer is able to understand unstructured text information – in English only – in a variety of formats (including HTML, PDF, Word, and TXT) and then generate and test hypotheses based on that data, changing how it runs future tests and what later assumptions it makes based on what it learned before.

However, it's not able to process images or video, and it can't actively come up with new ideas.

IBM says its had more than 1,500 proposals for cognitive computing concepts building on Watson, taking advantage of the system's ability to analyze data more like a human brain would than any traditional computer might. That's been used to classify social networking users according to what they post, as well as to teach Watson to curse thanks to Urban Dictionary.