SoftBank Will Help IBM’s Watson Learn Japanese

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Watson, the IBM-developed artificial intelligence computer system, isn’t content with just being a Jeopardy winner, powering healthcare analytics, or making big data easier to understand. Now the overachiever is also studying Japanese.

IBM and Tokyo-based telecom giant/conglomerate/investor SoftBank announced today that they will team up to train Watson in Japanese. This is part of an ongoing effort to turn Watson into a polyglot; in addition to Japanese, IBM has said that it will also learn other languages including Spanish and Portuguese, which will help bring services powered by the supercomputer to new markets.

Once Watson learns Japanese, IBM and SoftBank (which owns Sprint and Yahoo! Japan and is a major investor in Alibaba) will market its products to education, banking, healthcare, insurance, and retail companies in Japan. In a statement, the two companies said they began collaborating on Watson’s Deep QA technology, which allows it to analyze questions in natural language (i.e. the way normal people talk) and return answers that are decipherable by humans, three years ago.

Watson had trouble making money, but IBM announced one year ago that it will invest more than $1 billion in Watson Group, a business unit focused on commercializing the supercomputer’s capabilities by developing software and apps. IBM CEO Virginia Rometty said in October 2013 that she hopes it will be able to generate $10 billion in annual revenue within 10 years.

In addition to Japanese language training, IBM will also develop APIs localized for developers in Japan. Perhaps more intriguingly, Watson’s technology will also be integrated into Pepper, the humanoid, emotion-reading robot developed by Aldebaran for SoftBank.

Softbank Pepper

This is pure speculation, but it would be really cool if Watson and Pepper’s love children eventually started driving cars for all of SoftBank’s taxi-app investments. Watch out, Uber!