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IBM's Watson takes Harvard, MIT business students to school, drops the mic

Amar Toor, @amartoo

There was a massacre in Boston the other night, and Watson had blood all over his hands. The IBM supercomputer and undisputed Jeopardy champ made a virtual appearance in Beantown this week, ostensibly as part of a symposium on the ways in which advanced analytics could reshape business. In reality, though, he only showed up to remind everyone that he's really smart. During the event, Watson squared off in a Jeopardy scrimmage against two groups of students from some of the most prestigious business schools in the world -- Harvard Business School, and MIT's Sloan School of Management. The brainiac b-schoolers (including two former Jeopardy contestants) did remarkably well for the first two rounds; Harvard managed to get within $1,800 of the machine going into Final Jeopardy, and even held the lead at one point, following a gutsy Daily Double (MIT didn't fare so well, but hey, we're all human, right?). The wheels came off, however, once the battle entered Act III, when Watson pulled away for the win. Both the computer and Team Harvard answered the final question correctly, but Watson wisely bet just enough to keep the Ivy Leaguers at bay. When the smoke cleared, Watson was left standing with $53,601, Harvard finished with $42,399 and MIT came in a distant third, with $100.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Watson wasn't even in the same building as his muggle competitors -- nor, for that matter, was he in the same state. IBM kept all of the machine's processors and memory chips at its Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. Watson had already come up with answers to the questions prior to this week's showdown, but placed wages, chose categories and buzzed in responses in real-time. According to IBM, Watson's presence wouldn't have changed the outcome of the game, which was followed by a discussion on the effects that similar technologies could have on the financial world. The most immediate impact? Bruised egos. Re-live the event at IBM's liveblog below, or find more information in the PR after the break.

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IBM Watson Heads to Harvard, MIT to Explore Future of Technology in Business

BOSTON and CAMBRIDGE, Mass., - 31 Oct 2011: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today will conduct a Watson symposium with Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The event brings together some of the brightest academic minds to collaborate on the use of advanced analytics, like those powering Watson, to transform the way the world does business. Follow the event and share your thoughts at #IBMWatson on Twitter and the live blog at

As part of the symposium, teams of students from Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management will test their skills in a demonstration of IBM Watson's question answer (QA) capabilities in an exhibition game of the television quiz show Jeopardy!

The commercialization of Watson technology means that today's students will require new skills when they enter the job market. As future leaders in a wide range of industries and entrepreneurial ventures, students will need to combine business skills and knowledge with advanced analytical techniques to compete successfully in the world economy. For example, when applied to the banking and finance industry, Watson-like technologies can uncover hidden patterns in data that can rapidly identify market trends, and provide deep, integrated risk analysis. This provides financial services professionals a more accurate picture of their market positions, helping them find opportunities, better assess risk and hedge their financial exposures.

According to Harvard Business School Professor of Management Practice Willy Shih, "the symposium and demonstration match will expose our students to cutting-edge technology in deep analytics, an area of increasing importance in business applications, healthcare and the life sciences, enterprise knowledge management, finance, and anywhere there are vast amounts of unstructured data."

"Great technology companies like IBM are converting the seemingly impossible into reality these days, to the point that it's hard to keep up with all the digital innovations and their business implications," said Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist, MIT. "So we thought it would be a good idea to devote a day to discussing them, and also to see them in action. We're going to spend the morning talking computer science and economics with the world's leading experts in these fields, then cheer our students on against Watson in the afternoon. I predict at least a second place finish for the MIT team."

By bringing this technology to the university community, IBM aims to inspire the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to think about the possibilities of Watson technology and the skills they will need to take advantage of the opportunities Watson creates.

Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management are the first two business schools where IBM will co-host a Watson symposium. A team of researchers from MIT led by Boris Katz, principal research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, contributed code to QuestionAnswer capabilities in Watson.

Harvard Business School's Professor Shih recently wrote an in-depth case study of Watson that will be used by MBA students in the school's required first-year course Technology and Operations Management.

"From business to health care, education and the government, the advanced analytics capabilities of IBM's Watson will transform how the world works," said Bernard Meyerson, vice president of innovation and academic programs, IBM. "Our goal in demonstrating Watson's capabilities and sharing our insights from its development is to challenge the leaders of tomorrow to leverage this new capability in ways we've yet to imagine."

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is a computing system created by IBM scientists that understands the meaning and context of human language, can analyze data and learn correlations between data. The technology introduces the capability to sift through an equivalent of about 1 million books or roughly 200 million pages of data to provide instant answers to questions posed to it. With the amount of digital information being generated, stored, processed and analyzed each year growing at an exponential rate--and affecting every industry segment--there is a real need for businesses and governments to use business analytic technology like Watson to make sense of large amounts of data to achieve their goals.

Higher education institutions like Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management benefit from the ability to work with companies to create curricula that incorporate real-world case studies and brings breakthrough technology like Watson into the classroom. IBM's Academic Initiative brings technological advances, IBM scientists and executives to universities around the world to talk about how these innovations are transforming the way human beings work and live. The goal of this initiative is to engage and inspire students while teaching the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs the skills they need to build a smarter planet.

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