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Siri, what do you make of IBM's Cognea gobble? Oh, we can't print THAT

Big Blue plugs virtual-assistant upstart into celebrity supercomputer Watson

IBM Watson QA Power7 cluster

IBM's Watson supercomputer team has acquired virtual-assistant maker Cognea.

We're told the upstart developer will slot into the “Watson Platform” to help sharpen the Jeopardy!-winning machine's chitchat with humanity.

Now that the celebrity super has won a gameshow, thanks to its banks of POWER7 processors and a copy of Wikipedia in 15TB of RAM, Big Blue is touting access to the beast – and it hopes to use Cognea's knowhow to lure in more developers.

“At IBM, we’re working on a host of technologies – a set of conversational services – aimed at enriching the relationship between you and the system,” wrote Michael Rhodin, senior veep at IBM Watson Group, yesterday. “These conversational services range from helping systems understand us as individuals to selecting the appropriate words and responses that are most meaningful to each of us.”

These "conversational services" will be available to programmers signing up to access a slice of Watson, we're told.

The supercomputer group was keen on Cognea as a first acquisition for the platform because its virtual assistants can adopt a personality to suit the situation: the software can act like a formal business stereotype, a friendly neighbour character, and so on, as required.

“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',” Rhodin continued, letting slip a little stab at Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana.

Big Blue is putting a lot of effort into turning Watson into a money-spinner, forming the Watson Group around it, and investing $1bn in R&D for the system. Having plonked the supercomputer into a "cloud", IBM is offering its DeepQA software to businesses such as DBS Bank, which is using the Watson platform to give better advice to wealthy customers. ®

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