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IBM is exposing the super computer brain that crushed puny humans in a TV quiz show to the entire internet.

Big Blue announced its IBM Watson Developers Cloud on Thursday, inviting all comers to build big data apps that tap the cognitive powers of its Watson super computer. The idea is to tempt application authors keen on writing cognitive software apps.

IBM had been offering Watson as a hosted service to private clients through its existing IBM cloud. Medical was the first field, working with hospitals and health-service provides since early 2011.

From next year, though, all devs will be able to build apps that depend on machine learning.

Big Blue's theory is they can build cognitive, big-data-based apps without needing to learn the underlying machine-learning plumbing.

IBM is also pitching Watson Cloud as a kind of Amazon platform, where content experts can build their own ecosystems on top of the underlying platform.

“This is a big day for us,” John Gordon, IBM vice president of Watson solutions, told The Register. “We want to unleash the power of Watson to innovators as the first cognitive intelligence platform that they can embed their applications into.

“We know we don’t have a lock on the great innovative ideas,” Gordon continued. “This will let the innovators figure out what those good ideas are.”

Under the Watson Developers Cloud, IBM will give app builders access to the Watson APIs, a developer toolkit and educational materials. Watson is language agnostic, so apps will only need to speak to Watson via its Restful APIs. Devs can build apps populated with data from Watson or supply their own data, according to IBM.

You’ll get a sandboxed development space on the Watson cloud to build and test your app, with the possibility of access to IBM professional services.

Devs can also use their sandboxes to make Watson smarter. They will be able to run searches and queries that improve Watson’s responses, working existing data inside Watson – or they can load their system with their own data.

IBM has committed more than 500 subject matter experts to the program in the fields of in design, development and research.

Kicking off the Watson program, IBM revealed that three companies have built Watson-powered apps, in retail and health.

The three apps are Fluid Expert Personal Shopper from a company called Fluid, a medical devices research tool for doctors and medical companies called Hippocrates, and CafeWell Concierge from Welltok to help people stay healthy.

Watson first excited the tech community in 2011 when the supercomputer beat two human contestants on US TV game show Jeopardy.

The system employed a cluster of ninety IBM Power 750 servers each running eight, quad-core 3.5GHz processors and 16TB or RAM. The software was written in C++, Java, Hadoop and SuSE Linux. The secret sauce was IBM’s work in the algorithms on information retrieval, reasoning, learning and presentation.

Watson was loaded with encyclopedias, dictionaries, articles, books, databases, taxonomies and other sources – and it was these that the software stack wracked.

The original Watson system was a bedroom-sized set of Power servers with workloads running on each core. The Watson system running in IBM’s cloud system has been radically re-architected, to split jobs across different cores.

Also Watson is running on Power servers already in IBM’s existing cloud that have been specially optimized to run the Watson machine-learning APIs and distributed processing.

IBM claimed a 240 per cent improvement in system performance over Watson from 2011, and a reduction of 75 per cent in the physical requirements needed to run the system, which can now use a single Power 750 server with Linux.

“The power is the ability to stack and scale – we wanted it to grow as demand changed,” Gordon said.

“This one [Watson] is now ready for business. The first [Watson] was Watson at play and gave us a great chance to test Watson. This [today] is a real enterprise-class system.”

IBM Watson Developers Cloud will be available in 2014. ®

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