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IBM lets scientists pay to play with its thinking supercomputer

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IBM's Watson promises to usher in a new era of "cognitive computing," but, so far, all the system has demonstrated is a knack for game shows. Now, however, IBM has announced Watson Discovery Advisor, a cloud-based service that'll enable researchers to harness those smarts to do more than put Ken Jennings out of a job. Using the platform, scientists can ask Watson natural-language questions, sending the system to scour every publicly available research paper ever written in every available field. Digesting this information, Watson is then able to identify connections that it would have taken a lifetime for a person to find, which promises to accelerate the speed of scientific discovery. In one instance, the Baylor College of Medicine used Watson to crunch six years worth of cancer protein research into "a matter of weeks." Now all we need to do is scrape together the cash to ask the supercomputer the ultimate question...

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