IBM opens new Watson headquarters in NY, expands with global cognitive computing projects

Associated Press

IBM revealed details about new projects for its Watson cognitive computing software as it opened its New York headquarters.

The company has been developing business uses for Watson with clients since it announced in January it was investing more than $1 billion in the technology, including about $100 million in startup companies working on Watson projects. Watson uses artificial intelligence that absorbs vast amounts of data and other information to "learn."

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On Wednesday, the company said that the unit is working with clients in 25 countries, including South Africa, Australia and the U.K., in fields ranging from travel to health care and financial services. On Wednesday it opened a splashy new headquarters at Astor Place in New York.

"We've had a lot of momentum over the past nine months," said John Gordon, IBM Watson Group VP, in an interview with The Associated Press. "With one hundred-plus partners building applications (for Watson), that is significant momentum and traction."

Watson, IBM's cognitive computing experiment, gained attention in 2011 after defeating human opponents on "Jeopardy!" and winning $1 million. Since then, IBM has been developing the technology for commercial use.

It has worked with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in oncology research and with the health insurer, WellPoint Inc. It continues to partner with cancer centers like MD Anderson in Houston and the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis to develop new diagnostic tools and ways to manage clinical trials.

It has also branched out, working with businesses overseas like a hospital in Thailand and a bank in Spain. It is also working with startups to develop Watson-powered apps, including WayBlazer, an app which uses Watson to power travel bookings.

IBM, the world's largest technology services company, has been working to expand into new areas as its hardware business falters. Watson is a small part of IBM, which in total has annual earnings of nearly $15 billion and revenue of nearly $100 billion.

But CEO Ginni Rometty said Wednesday that Watson is set to grow, with cognitive technology "the world's next natural resource."

Shares of IBM, based in Armonk, New York, rose $1.29 to $187 in midday trading.