IBM's Watson now answers your questions before you ask

Watson Discovery Advisor has been upgraded to seek out hidden relations in data

IBM has upgraded its Watson Discovery Advisor data analysis service so it can answer your questions before you even ask.

The updated Watson Discovery Advisor can examine a body of data and identify trends, correlations and other points of interest for researchers, IBM said.

The service will provide you leads "when you don't know the question to ask, and for when you want to uncover and discover in the data new insights and patterns," said Steve Gold, IBM vice president for the Watson platform.

Many fields of expertise could benefit from the service, particularly those that collect large amounts of data that require analysis, such as law, medicine and finance, he said.

"It turns out there is a huge appetite in industry for this type of capability," Gold said. "Many of these industries, through traditional approaches, have found it time consuming and tiring to get through the information and find new insights."

IBM Research developed Watson to compete with human contestants on the "Jeopardy" game show, using natural language processing and analytics, as well as many sources of structured and unstructured data, to formulate responses to the show's questions.

By fusing content and context, Watson isn't programmed, Gold said. "It is taught. So it doesn't have all the limitations of conventional systems that are based on rules."

Watson Discovery Advisor is a commercial offshoot of Watson, packaging some of Watson's capabilities as a data analysis cloud service.

Watson Discovery Advisor uses a number of computational techniques to deliver its results, including natural language processing, machine learning and hypothesis generation, in which a hypothesis is created and evaluated by a number of different analysis techniques.

The discovery capability "looks for points of interaction, points of connection. It is looking for relevancy of attributes and activities. And it is essentially bringing those forward to a researcher," Gold said. "And some of those may be noise, but what is nice is that not only does it bring up the relationship, but its confidence in the strength of the connection."

The updated Watson Discovery Advisor is also 240 percent faster, according to the company.

The Advisor service has attracted a number of customers.

Health care company Johnson & Johnson commissioned the service to ingest clinical trial outcome studies to compare the effectiveness of different types of drugs. Pharmaceutical company Sanofi is also using the service similarly, to look for ways of repurposing drugs.

Baylor College of Medicine used the service to analyze 23 million abstracts of medical papers in order to find more information on the p53 tumor protein, in search of more information on how to turn it on or off. From these results, Baylor researchers identified six potential proteins to target for new research.

It typically takes researchers using traditional methods about a year to find a single potentially useful target protein, IBM said.

IBM declined to disclose how much it costs to use the Watson Discovery Advisor. It will be demonstrating more cases of customers using the service during an event in New York Thursday.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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