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IBM's Watson: The Consumer Answer?

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Consumers have gotten used to researching answers from search engines when they need help. With Watson, the IBM computing system that won Jeopardy!, Big Blue is aiming to help businesses not just to answer customers' questions, but to maintain a conversation with the Watson Engagement Advisor.

"Customer engagement is a natural fit for Watson, which can instantly create a strong bond between who customers are as individuals, and what types of information will help them reach their goals," said IBM's Manoj Saxena, the general manager of Watson product offerings.

(See More Here: IBM's Watson Has A New Job)

Big Blue announced five new clients working on using Watson's cognitive computing and ability to crunch so-called big data, to help enhance service to their customers. The companies include Malaysia telecom provider Celcom, financial firms Royal Bank of Canada and ANZ Banking Group, IT services provider IHS, and the consumer research firm Nielsen.

"We'll be exploring ways to use Watson for helping our agencies and their client brands engage more effectively with consumers across all devices—from TV to tablet to smartphone," wrote Randall Beard, chief of Advertiser Solutions at Nielsen.

Beard said his firm will use Watson in its recently launched innovation lab to help develop new ways of making the massive volume of consumer data on brands more actionable for advertisers.

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"We believe this collaboration will open up a realm of possibilities for our clients," said Beard.

Since Watson won the Jeopardy! challenge in 2011, IBM says the big data system's ability to process large amounts of data and information in natural language is nearly 250 percent faster, while using about quarter the amount of server capacity it used to play the television quiz show.

Joyce Phillips, CEO of Global Wealth at ANZ said Watson would help the bank's financial advisors to be smarter and faster at developing and adjusting retirement plans for their clients, "by leveraging a groundbreaking innovation that can think like a human, and serve as a dedicated assistant, researcher and guidepost."

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IBM has revealed more than a dozen clients across a number of industries with whom it is working on developing new big data analytics programs using Watson. A number of them are in health care.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is using Watson to come up with the best course of cancer treatment recommendations, based on the latest research and patient data.

The Interactive Care Insights for Oncology is among the most highly-watched Watson programs, because it is expected to launch as a commercial product for hospitals and cancer care providers by 2014.

—By Bertha Coombs. Follow her on Twitter: @coombscnbc.

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