The Watson Developer Challenge: Why mobile applications must be smarter

By their very nature, good mobile applications must be smarter.  The physical limitations—the small screen, or the input mechanisms (1-2 fingers or unpredictable voice recognition) mandate that a mobile app anticipate what you want to do and make it easy to get there.  No drop down boxes, no multiple queries, not much scrolling. Certainly very little clicking to get to a new screen.  Or a chain of multiple queries when the first one is off the mark. Forget cut and paste. For these reasons, mobile applications must be both smarter at understanding what you want and intelligently designed. That’s hard.

Enter cognitive computing.  If an application can really understand what the user intends, if it can classify questions and predict the kind of answer or action needed, then there will be less burden placed on the user to adapt to the limitations of the app.  But cognitive computing requires real language understanding (NLP) as well as machine learning and classification.  It also requires a corpus of examples to learn from. This is a level of technical prowess that would be impossible to develop for most start ups. Enter IBM’s Watson. Watson Foundations was released last quarter.  And now IBM has announced the Watson Mobile Developer Challenge.  This contest invites app developers to submit a proposal to develop an application on the IBM Watson platform.  Developers must make a case for what they propose, demonstrating why it would be valuable. Winning apps will capitalize on Watson’s strengths:

  • Have a question and answer interaction pattern, with questions posed in natural language
  • Draw on mostly unstructured (text) information for answers
  • Return answers that are ranked according to their pertinence to the question
  • Benefit by better understanding (analysis) of the type of question being submitted

The catch is that applications are due by March 31st.

This contest brings cognitive computing within the reach of developers.  Watson supplies the NLP tools, question analysis, machine learning, and confidence scoring that would otherwise place cognitive computing beyond the reach of most vendors. For more information, see IBMWatson.com. The application and rules can be found at:

http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/form_challenge.html?cmp=usbrb&cm=s&csr=watson.site_20140226&cr=dev&ct=usbrb301&cn=sec5cta

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