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January 09, 2014

Watson Supercomputer to Stand on its Own

Big Blue’s Watson is arguably the most famous super computer in history. How many Cray’s actually have names that we all remember?

Now the Watson line will be a standalone IBM (News - Alert) division, and development work will henceforth be done in one of the brainiest places on earth – the heart of Manhattan.

So how did Watson get so famous? Well, it took on and beat a World chess champ, and then later beat Jeopardy whiz Ken Jennings.

Big Blue must have big plans as it pledges to invest $1 billion to make the new plan work.

Super computers used to be niche products, aimed at massive research projects such as genome sequencing. As they moved to commodity hardware and software, they become cheaper, more functional, and applicable to a broader range of uses.

Why is this important? Super computers have changed the world. We couldn’t have unraveled the human genome without them. Even better, they are getting faster and cheaper all the time, and here are revolutionizing how products are engineered and tested.

In fact, super computers are ideal for building high-performance clouds, and today support everything from engineering simulation to financial modeling.

There is more to Watson than just hardware horsepower. Being based on commodity components means it can be programmed much like an ordinary computer.

And IBM gave Watson a splash of AI, allowing to it to learn from what it has done in the past and apply these lessons to the future.

Big Data is also driving demand for more horsepower, and here Watson hopes to fit the bill.

“Watson does more than find the needle in the haystack,” said IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. “It understands the haystack. It understands context.”

The new Watson digs are in New York’s East Village, close to New York University. Besides the school, there are a bevy of startups in this neighborhood, and here IBM pledges to invest $100 million in new companies developing Watson apps.

Hoping to Grow

IBM expects to have some 2,000 working on the Watson business. The super computer started more as a research project than a business, and in the beginning only employed 27 people.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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