IBM's Watson taking crash course in Japanese for SoftBank

IBM's publicity-loving supercomputer Watson has a new job in Japan for wireless carrier SoftBank doing... something? Its job description is vague so far, but first it'll need to learn Japanese, no small feat for a machine that has remained mostly occidental so far. Watson is first and foremost a cognitive computer designed to parse language and find relationships between huge amounts of data. That means in order to help SoftBank -- which has divisions around the world, including Sprint Nextel in the US -- it'll need to get a better grasp of the language and culture in Japan.

IBM and Softbank will jointly build the Japanese language version of Watson, and SoftBank will resell and distribute the tech in Japan. As for what exactly it plans to do with Watson, the carrier said it will start by tapping local developers to build new features aimed at its home market. For its own purposes, it'll exploit IBM's knack for natural language learning to help consumers and use its predictive talents to make better business decisions.

More concretely, SoftBank could put Watson to use in next-gen robots that would work as teaching assistants or hospital aids, two areas where the supercomputer already has some experience. SoftBank also said Watson would operate in its local data centers. In the US, Watson has won Jeopardy, imitated Dr. House and been a financier. IBM recently bolstered Watson with a $100 million round of funding.

Update: The article originally said that Watson was a commercial failure, but IBM told us that's not the case. We've updated it to reflect that fact.

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