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IBM Research Division Tackles Analytics, IT Services, Health Care

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y.—"Watson" isn’t brushing up on any trivia today.

Watson, now maybe the world’s most well-known supercomputer (with its own New York Times Magazine profile to prove it), is half hidden behind a black curtain and stationed in the mock "Jeopardy" studio thatIBM has built inside its massive T.J. Watson Research Facility here.

During a recent visit there, IBM engineers could be seen tweaking Watson, which, though based on some of the same technology as the company’s other Blue Gene supercomputers, utilizes natural-language capabilities. Although Big Blue is still testing Watson against “live” Jeopardy contestants, the supercomputer is expected to appear on the real game show sometime later this year.

While Watson, much like its chess-playing predecessor, Deep Blue, is an impressive way for IBM to capture the public’s imagination, the supercomputer is only a small part of what goes on at the Watson facilities, both here and in neighboring Hawthorne, N.Y.

What is really driving a small but growing part of IBM’s research these days is analytics, which is essentially a discipline that uses mathematics and data to arrive at the most optimal decision. For years, IBM research and math departments have played a key role in the company’s research; now the company tapped these scientists and researchers to be part of i...

One day, in fact, Watson could find itself, rather than on TV, part of this very same analytics push--specifically focusing on health care, where its language software and massive computational ability could assist in the areas such as molecular biology and genomic sequencing. As part of this direction, IBM is looking to increase the number of people in its math department from about 110 to 200 or so, especially concentrating on those with expertise in very specific fields of study, including operations research, machine learning and statistics.

"We are looking for special people. We don’t want people in the ivory tower," said Baruch Schieber, manager of Business Analytics and Optimization at IBM Research. In other words, he is looking for mathematicians interested in real-world work. "We want people to get in here and understand how people manufacture and how companies distribute their goods from the warehouse to the supermarket."

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