IBM’s Watson Supercomputer: Next Stop, Wall Street

on March 06 2012 4:51 PM

Now that IBM's (NYSE: IBM) Watson supercomputer has gone to the doctor, it's going to Wall Street.

Only three months into a pilot project with WellPoint (NYSE: WLP), one of the nation's top health maintenance organizations, Watson is going to Citigroup (NYSE: C), the operator of the world's biggest financial services network.

The same machine that dazzled the world last year when it beat two human champions at "Jeopardy," Watson is getting a second commercial rollout, "part of getting our customers to adapt to a third generation of computing," said Manoj Saxena, general manager of IBM's Watson Solutions Group.

IBM has worked closely with Citigroup and its predecessors for decades, Saxena said, so it's no wonder the New York-based banking and financial services giant wanted to tap into Watson's potential.

The supercomputer, 90 IBM Power 750 servers using 15 trillion bytes of random-access memory and 2,880 processors, is a master at analyzing unstructured data.

"We can use Watson's analytics to improve customers' interactions," the IBM industrial engineer and prior VP for Industry & Cloud Business Solutions said. On top of data previously fed into Watson to prepare for "Jeopardy," it will now be fed financial, stock and market data, then customized for Citigroup applications during 2012.

Life cycle events

Much the same was done for Indianapolis-based WellPoint, Saxena said. Watson was fed all kinds of medical and health data which the health services provider has been deploying in a pilot run in Richmond, Va.

"The pilot is on target, ahead of schedule," the IBM researcher said. WellPoint nurses and professionals are tapping Watson for help dealing with medical care, health insurance and diagnostics.

For Citigroup, IBM researchers will collaborate with the banking group's information technology professionals to develop "life cycle" event products and other applications that can be used to work with clients.

Saxena, based at IBM's Austin, Texas, facility, said his daughter plans to enroll at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. A Citigroup officer with Watson might help her apply for a credit card, and then, using other data including material from Facebook pages and other sites, develop a profile for her.

Over time, an officer might approach her about travelers checks, a car loan, investment, mortgages and other financial products as part of a financial relationship, he said.

Boost from Siri

IBM, for this year, will stick with health care and financial services as the initial targets of the Watson rollout because the two sectors already represent a significant chunk of the global economy.

Because information is proprietary and confidential, the IBM executive said other health organizations and financial companies are also welcome to sign up for Watson.

Separately, the researcher said, IBM and Watson have gotten an indirect boost from Apple, which introduced the Siri voice-activated assistant in the iPhone 4S. Watson, of course, responds to verbal queries.

"Watson and Siri provide critical acceptance of an emerging market," Saxena explained. "Both rely on analytics, both rely on understanding of the natural language process and both rely on the cloud," or Internet-based computing.

Watson, of course, is for enterprise applications of a very high scale, whereas Siri is for the consumer.

Shares of IBM closed at $197.26, down $3.40 in Tuesday trading. They set an all-time high of $201.19 on Monday. The company's market capitalization exceeds $228 billion.