IBM's Rometty makes developers an offer: the Watson mobile app challenge

IBM is pulling out all the stops to make Watson cognitive computing platform a success

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty took to the Mobile World Congress stage Wednesday to announce a global competition to encourage developers to create mobile consumer and business apps powered by its Watson supercomputer platform.

Watson is the heart of the company's cognitive computing technology. IBM is pulling out all the stops to make Watson a success. Last month, the company set up a new division, the Watson Business Group, to create and run cloud-based cognitive applications and services for enterprise users.

"By 2016, a quarter of the apps in the world will be in the cloud," Rometty said. These apps are generating massive amounts of data, she said.

"You can't program enough to make sense of all the data in the world," Rometty said, adding that the vast amount of data generated every day is leading to a new era of computing.

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"The new era is cognitive, of teach and learn," Rometty said.

"I want to make an offer to you," Rometty said. "We're gonna offer the Watson Mobile Developer Challenge."

The competition is taking place under the newly formed IBM Watson Group. It aims to encourage development of cognitive computing apps.

Watson cognitive computing comprises services, software and apps that analyze and improve by learning. The idea is to answer complex questions derived from massive amounts of disparate data, Rometty said.

IBM is setting up the Watson Mobile Developer Challenge specifically to seed efforts to develop cognitive apps that can change the way consumers and businesses interact with data on their mobile devices, Rometty said.

Over the next three months, the global challenge will invite mobile developers and entrepreneurs to share their best ideas to build and develop mobile apps into prototypes.

IBM will invite three winners to join the Watson Ecosystem Program, in which the company is assembling content providers and independent software vendors to collaborate on the development and release of "Powered by IBM Watson" applications.

"We've already got thousands of applicants," to be part of the ecosystem, Rometty said.

The winners of the challenge will work with IBM's recently launched global consulting practice, IBM Interactive Experience, to receive design consulting and support from IBM experts to develop a commercial app, IBM detailed in a statement accompanying Rometty's talk.

IBM is serious about encouraging the development of applications that run in the cloud. For IBM, more applications mean more data generated, and more of a need for the analytics software and services that it sells.

"We have a big-data analysis business of $16 billion," Rometty said.

On Monday, IBM announced it will spend $1 billion on its platform-as-a-service (PaaS) strategy, separate from the money it is investing in Watson, to encourage software makers to build cloud apps.

As part of that announcement, made at its Pulse event in Las Vegas, IBM will become a major contributor to the Cloud Foundry, an open source PaaS that is run under the aegis of Pivotal, a spinout from VMware and EMC.

IBM first developed Watson as a research project to compete against humans on the game show "Jeopardy." Watson can come up with answers to questions using a range of sources in various formats. It was able to hone its answers by learning how to formulate the best responses in an iterative, trial and error process.

Because this approach to problem solving emulates how humans think, it is known as cognitive computing.

After Watson beat human contestants in "Jeopardy" in 2011, IBM has worked to commercialize Watson technologies.

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