cognitive computingWatson is is widely regarded as world leading in the field of cognitive computing.Image courtesy of the University of AberdeenThe University of Aberdeen has become the first Scottish university to partner with IBM to offer students and staff access to Watson Engagement Advisor, one of IBM's cognitive computing technology solutions.

The partnership will provide students within the university’s Department of Computing Science the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of IBM’s system, which is widely regarded as world leading in the field of cognitive computing.

It will also allow the university to expand its curriculum and help nurture the next generation of innovators, as well as provide exciting research opportunities that will further cement its status as a university at the forefront of work in this area.

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Cognitive computing systems learn and interact naturally with people, and work with experts to make sense of complex data. 

Watson represents a new era of computing based on its ability to interact in natural language, process vast amounts of disparate data, and learn from each interaction.  IBM has worked closely with the world’s leading academic institutions ever since the development and introduction of Watson.

Through its partnership with IBM, Aberdeen has become one of only four UK Institutions to have access to the Watson Engagement Advisor solution and its experts.

It will initially be used by students undertaking the Department of Computing Science’s Semantic Web Engineering module taught by Dr Jeff Z. Pan, leader of the department’s Knowledge Technology group.  It will eventually be offered more widely across a range of relevant programmes.

Academics at the university are already undertaking cutting-edge cognitive computing research using Watson, collaborating with a team of IBM scientists on the EU Marie Curie K-Drive project

The project is investigating ways of understanding and utilizing big data and knowledge graphs for applications, such as those in the treatment of cancers. 

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This involves using IBM Watson's question & answering, knowledge representation, and dialogue capabilities. The results of the work will also form the basis of new research proposals from the university for the EU Horizon 2020 Programme.

Dr Pan, who coordinates the K-Drive project, said: “With access to Watson we are providing the next generation of students with experience of the latest techniques in cognitive computing, which puts them in a strong position when it comes to a career in the industry. 

“The partnership with IBM is an exciting opportunity to advance our research in this area.  Cognitive computing is empowering human decision-making processes by understanding and exploiting data which is structured and unstructured, and our research is focused on how to make the best use of both types of data.”

IBM Academic Initiative Leader, Paul Fryer, said: “Cognitive represents an entirely new model of computing that includes a range of technology innovations in analytics, natural language processing, and machine learning.  The collaboration between IBM and the University of Aberdeen, which builds on a long-standing relationship, aims to help nurture the next generation of innovators and is the first initiative of this type in Scotland.”