NSS Students Make Applications At IBM Watson Workshop

Last week, a group of 40 NSS students, instructors and recent graduates participated in the IBM Watson Workshop, held at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

IBM Watson is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data. Unstructured data could include news articles, research reports, social media posts and enterprise system data. According to the IBM Watson site, about 80% of all data on the internet today is unstructured.

The workshop presented 100 and 200 level sessions to teach and practice different ways to utilize Watson’s API tools. The 200 level class was a hands-on developer lab designed for NSS students to build and complete an application using the tools in the API by the end of the session.

Clark Buckner interviewed Watson spokesperson Allison Schneider who works with startups and developers on learning IBM Watson’s tools and features.

“When you think about cognitive computing and Watson, there’s such a unique value to being able to understand unstructured data, because a lot of the devices and systems as we’ve know them today are really good structured data. They like data in nice, neat pretty rows and columns,” Schneider said. “But what’s interesting is that 80% of the world’s data is actually unstructured. So it’s super text-heavy. It’s PDF’s, social media, HTML, and blogs. Everything that we are familiar with that’s written in text.”

Participants in the 100 level class focused on the general applications of what Watson is, and how startups can use it, and covered the value of being able to understand unstructured data. The 200 level workshop allowed the NSS community to take a deeper dive into the software, teaching attendees how to build a small application with Watson’s API in a lab setting. Several participants mentioned an interest in learning more about IBM Watson’s API tools as the program evolves. Reactions from the NSS community ranged from curious to creepy.

“My limited experience with it now is that it is powerful and spooky,” said NSS alumni Greg Korte, who participated in building a facial recognition app through the bluemix application.

Another graduate, Mathew Ostrander added “I mainly was grateful for the chance to attend because it sounded like something cool or fun to learn. Even as a graduate or alumni, it doesn’t mean that the learning stops (in the tech field learning is never done). Because of the limited time, I was only able to build the same facial image recognition application that was presented. It was a lot of fun how quickly that was able to be set up and implemented though, I was impressed both with ease of use and with accuracy of the APIs. It’s funny, because just recently I was at a botanical garden with my family and we were talking about how it would be really neat if there were something that we could take an image of a flower and be able to identify it. At first I thought that such a thing would involve too much data to comb through to produce any sort of valid or timely answer, but this workshop convinced me otherwise.”

Schneider said in the podcast interview that the value of Watson is though analyzing the unstructured data in a way that humans do, pulling meaningful answers to questions with images and visuals. “It’s really a partnership in terms of the person working with the system, training the system on how to understand this content in a more meaningful way,” she added.

Some of the most popular use cases with the tools are the personality insights and tone analyzer. The personality insights tool creates personal profiles based on text in emails, blogs, and memos. The tone analyzer can check messages to help people understand how they are coming across in online communication.

Thank you IBM Watson for sharing knowledge and for taking the time to teach us how to build an application, and thank you to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center for hosting the event.


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