IBM’s Plans for Watson? It’s Elementary.

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With (spoiler alert!) Watson winning the final showdown against Jeopardy! champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, IBM has big post-TV plans to put him — er, it — to work. The exercise has been a marketing coup for IBM, as “Watson” and “IBM” have dominated search this week, along with Twitter — as the Twitter Dots tweet-tracker above illustrates.

Some real-world applications for the supercomputer, which is still being promoted on Twitter and Facebook, are in the works, including its first commercial deal.[more]

Even before the Jeopardy! challenge aired, IBM noted that it wanted to bring Watson’s supercomputing abilities to real-world challenges facing industries including healthcare, finance and customer service.

Its first application: healthcare. IBM announced tonight that it has reached a research agreement with Nuance Communications Inc., a provider of speech-recognition technology, to “explore, develop and commercialize” the Watson computing system’s advanced analytics capabilities in the healthcare industry. Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine will join the research project to provide their medical expertise and research.

Healthcare is a natural fit for Watson’s abilities, according to IBM. “Medical records, texts, journals and research documents are all written in natural language — a language that computers traditionally struggle to understand. The ability to deliver a single, precise answer from these documents could go a long way in transforming the healthcare industry. Watson could deliver such a solution.”

Finance is another area ripe for Watson’s brainiac abilities. “Enormous amounts of data are generated every day in the financial industry. The deep analytics of Watson could have profound effects on how companies make use of this information.”

Another area crying out for help — albeit one plagued by automated voice response — customer service.

Get more behind-the-scenes scoop on the Watson/Jeopardy! challenge in Stephen Baker’s new book, Final Jeopardy. The former BusinessWeek writer (and colleague – hi Steve!) has been blogging about the man-vs.-machine challenge in the lead-up to seeing his book released tomorrow.

Watson, meanwhile, will be featured on Ted.com tomorrow. As for its $1 million Jeopardy! prize, it’s being donated to charity, with 50% each to World Vision and World Community Grid.

(Below: a look at Watson’s strategy going into the Jeopardy! challenge.)

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