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IBM's Watson of 'Jeopardy!' fame to be offered as developer's tool

"Jeopardy!" contest Ken Jennings, who won a record

"Jeopardy!" contest Ken Jennings, who won a record 74 consecutive games, refers to his opponent, an IBM computer called "Watson", while being interviewed after a practice round of the "Jeopardy!" quiz show in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (Jan. 13, 2011) Credit: AP

IBM's Watson technology, famous for outsmarting humans on the game show "Jeopardy!," will be offered as a cloud-based tool to application developers, letting them tap a resource capable of giving everything from shopping tips to medical advice.

Programmers will be able to access the IBM Watson Developers Cloud, an online marketplace with resources for developing apps, use a content store with data from third-party providers and get help from IBM and contracted professionals, the Armonk, New York-based company said in a statement Thursday.

"There is so much more that can be accomplished by drawing on the creativity of individuals, organizations, entrepreneurs, startups and established businesses that truly innovate every day on their own," said Stephen Gold, vice president of Watson Solutions, in an interview. "Watson can be this ultimate assistant to help individuals get their questions answered and their problems solved."

Opening up the Watson platform to outside developers is IBM's latest step to commercialize the technology as it tries to boost revenue from cloud computing amid a decline in its hardware business. Watson, which can answer questions after being preloaded with documents and websites, has been deployed in the health and finance markets since its debut on the "Jeopardy!" in 2011.

Application developers, from startups to established businesses, can submit their requests to use Watson's services on IBM's website beginning this week, said Lori Bosio, a spokeswoman for the company.

There are no upfront cost for access and partners who use the service in their apps will be charged on a metered usage model, Gold said. He declined to comment on expected sales from the service.

Three apps developed on the cloud-based platform are targeted to enter the market early next year, IBM said.

MD Buyline, a company that provides supply-chain services for hospitals and health-care systems, will introduce its Hippocrates app to let clinical and financial users make "real- time, informed decisions," according to the statement.

Fluid Inc., an e-commerce services company, will offer its Fluid Expert Personal Shopper app to help consumers with purchase decisions. Welltok Inc.'s CafeWell Concierge app will combine users' input and Watson's ability to learn to create personalized health plans catered to an individual's needs.

The introduction of the Watson cloud service follows six quarters of declining revenue for IBM, underpinned by slumping sales in its hardware business. The company said it generated more than $1 billion in revenue from cloud products and services in the third quarter.

"We really believe in the future opportunity it represents in a revenue and upside perspective," Gold said of the Watson cloud service. "This is clearly IBM's most prized possession that we are opening up to the world."

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