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IBM's Watson supercomputer gets multiple personalities

A mental telemetry, my dear Watson
Tue May 20 2014, 11:43

IBM'S GAMESHOW CHAMP supercomputer Watson will get a personality, courtesy of virtual assistant firm Cognea.

IBM announced in a blog post this week that it snapped up Cognea for an undisclosed sum, bringing the firm's co-founders Liesl Capper and John Zakos back to the IBM fold.

IBM said, "In addition to the conversational services we have been developing within IBM, we have also acquired the startup, Cognea, which offers virtual assistants that relate to people using a wide variety of personalities—from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly.

"We believe this focus on creating depth of personality, when combined with an understanding of the users’ personalities will create a new level of interaction that is far beyond today's 'talking' smartphones."

As we suggested last week, the ability to access Watson's immense computing power as a personal assistant seems like a no-brainer, but up until now, Watson has been a "dumb supercomputer" without any personality.

Cognea will add, not just one, but a variety of personalities "from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly", which ultimately will allow you to "carry on a highly intellectual debate with a computer".

Watson uses a system known as "elastic storage" that IBM released this month. The system works by dynamically rearranging data so the most contextually useful data is in fast retrieval memory, flash SSD, for example, while less relevant data is moved to slower storage until it's necessary. This somewhat mimics human memory.

The idea of having a conversation with a supercomputer - be it HAL, KITT, Holly or Samantha - is familiar to almost everyone who has watched a TV show or Hollywood movie exploring the idea.

IBM believes that this "cognitive computing" is within reach, and has pledged to make the Cognea personalities and functions available to its partners, paving the way for interactive assistants in everything from universities and hospitals to tourist information centres. And yes, even in your watch. µ


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