Konnichiwa, Watson: SoftBank’s Pepper Finds BFF at IBM


IBM’s celebrity super-computer Watson is learning Japanese, thanks to a new partnership between Big Blue and SoftBank aimed at bringing cognitive computing to Japan.

With an impressive résumé including its famous “Jeopardy!” victory over humans, cancer research, gastronomy and customer service expertise, Watson’s next challenge is to learn a language written in a non-Western alphabet.

The complexity of the Japanese language, which uses the kanji alphabet—a series of complex diagrams, thousands of characters with various meanings and several phonetic options—will test Watson’s current capabilities and inform future applications.[more]

The two companies plan to integrate IBM’s Watson with Pepper, SoftBank’s empathetic social robotics platform, which goes on sale in Japan this month for $1,700. 

“SoftBank Group’s corporate mission is to make people happy through an information revolution,” stated Kunihiro Fujinaga, VP Enterprise Sales, SoftBank.

Cognitive computers perform human tasks, interacting in sympathetic ways while inferring contextual information from huge troves of data.

IBM will offer new Watson-powered apps in the education, banking, healthcare, insurance and retail sectors, and the two companies plan to build an ecosystem in Japan around Watson, creating local APIs and development platforms.

IBM has invested more than $1 billion in Watson since January 2014, and aims to reap $20 billion in revenue from analytics and big data this year.

Watson’s technology, which can analyze massive volumes of data and answer complex questions posed in natural language, “is in harmony with SoftBank Group’s corporate mission of ‘Information Revolution—Happiness for Everyone,'” said Ken Miyauchi, Representative Director and COO, SoftBank.

“We believe the technology will be applied to a broad range of areas, from enterprise to consumer sectors, and create new value for people.”

“SoftBank understands the Japanese market better than we do,” said Michael Karasick, VP Innovations for IBM Watson Group. “I’m expecting to be surprised at some of the innovative new uses they and their partners find for Watson.”

SoftBank will distribute, resell and host IBM’s technology, in order to enroll independent developers to build new features and products. “This will help us accelerate and advance the use of cognitive technologies in new parts of the world,” said Stephen Gold, VP, IBM’s Watson Group. “It’s bigger and broader than a single thing.”

As IBM and SoftBank stake a bigger claim in the emerging world of cognitive computing, Watson and Pepper stand poised to unlock a computing power that will reshape our world for the next several generations.