IBM grants UK universities unprecedented access to AI system Watson

The University of Southampton and Imperial College London have today announced partnerships with IBM to offer students and staff cognitive computing education with unprecedented access to IBM‘s Watson technology and experts.

Imperial College London will offer new courses to provide students with opportunities for hands-on learning as they work to develop cognitive computing solutions to address business and societal challenges.

The partnership extends cognitive systems activities in Imperial’s Department of Computing as well as in other college departments already involved in related interdisciplinary research.

Selected undergraduate and postgraduate students from Imperial’s Department of Computing will be enrolled in early 2015 in a course organised and led by Dr Alessandra Russo, the Department’s Director of Postgraduate Research.

>See also: Man and machine: Cognitive computing in the enterprise

Meanwhile, the University of Southampton will collaborate with IBM Watson on interdisciplinary PhD research projects across a wide range of sectors from marine and maritime to computer science, computational chemistry and groundbreaking medical research.

Southampton students will also engage with Watson through a new cognitive-computing module as part of its Curriculum Innovation programme, which will initially be available to over 150 undergraduate and masters students across all disciplines.

According to the government’s recent Information Economy Strategy report, business sectors across the economy are being transformed by data, analytics and modelling; and these will bring massive opportunities if government, industry and academia work together.

However one of the key dependencies is to create a highly skilled digital workforce.

Data from the Tech Partnership shows that 120,000 new entrants a year are required to fill specialist technology job roles in the UK and that the industry delivers an annual economic contribution of £84 billion or 6% of the total UK economy.

Watson represents a new era of computing based on its ability to interact in natural language, process vast amounts of disparate forms of big data, and learn from each interaction.

The collaborations between IBM and the universities aim to help nurture the next generation of innovators, and are the first initiatives of this type in the UK.

“As a leader in education and research in cognitive computing, Imperial College London aims to prepare industry-ready students to harness this combination of science and technology and create innovative products and services,” said Professor David Gann, VP (development and innovation) at Imperial College London.

“It is crucial for our students to be able to work with the most cutting-edge systems and technologies, and we are truly excited about this partnership with IBM – which will enable this through a multidisciplinary and systematic approach.”

>See also: Bringing learning to the data: AI in the enterprise

Dr Russell Bentley, assistant pro-vice-chancellor (education) at the University of Southampton, added:

“As a University which prides itself on being at the forefront of cutting edge technological and educational developments, the introduction of Watson into our curricular and extra-curricular activities is a natural step as we seek to transform the experience and resources available to our students and staff.

“The possibilities are endless thanks to IBM and Watson, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to work in partnership with IBM to push back the boundaries of global education for now and for the future.”

Working closely with both universities, IBM will provide a range of resources and support, including access to Watson through the Watson Developer Cloud and guest lectures by senior IBM executives.

IBM developers and researchers will also advise on new content and implementation, and Watson technical mentors will provide guidance as students work with it to build prototypes of cognitive business applications.

The announcements between IBM and the universities build on long established partnerships involving computing, business innovation and other domains in science and technology.

>See also: IBM investing $1 billion in new Watson business unit

 “We are entering into the era of cognitive computing which has the potential to change the way people interact with technology,” said Rashik Parmar, partnership executive at IBM UK&I.

“As the leader in big data and analytics, IBM is excited to be partnering with two of the world’s top universities to bring cognitive computing to some of their brightest minds and put Watson into the hands of our future innovators.

“Through these collaborations and other Watson initiatives, we hope to be able to continually play an integral role in transforming industries.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...