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Your App Is About To Get Smarter: IBM Opens Watson To Developers

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Once upon a time, artificial intelligence was strictly the domain of giants. To make an app that thinks more like a person, you needed the computing resources of Google or IBM. That’s starting to change as big companies open up their machine intelligence APIs for developers to use.

Today, IBM made good on its promise from nearly a year ago to open up its famous Watson AI platform in the form of a set of APIs. Eight of them, to be exact.

With this new set of tools, developers can build machine intelligence, natural language processing, data visualization, and host of other capabilities into whatever app they’ve dreamed up. “We’ve always enabled Watson to be fairly accessible by developers,” says Ed Harbour, vice president of IBM’s Watson Group. “But we only exposed two services. Now we’re exposing eight. So we’re adding colors to the palette for developers to use.”

In particular, the new set of APIs will enable third-party apps to automatically identify and translate languages, better understand grammar (including euphemisms), more deeply understand users (and tailor the experience accordingly), visualize data, and conduct smart Q&A’s backed by a trove of reference data.

For developers, this opens up new possibilities in terms of personalization, among other things. WayBlazer, one of the IBM’s launch partners, is a travel search app. It uses Watson to take public web data–Facebook likes and public tweets, for example–and then return travel options tailored to people’s interests.

Similarly, a few retail startups are using the platform to understand more about their customers, provide personalized, smartly timed promotions, and even fine-tune the language used to communicate with the user, making it more relevant to them. Are you snarky on Twitter? Overly optimistic on Facebook? On the backend, Watson can perform sentiment analysis on your public web presence so that apps and services can speak to you in language that sounds more like your friends and less like boilerplate marketing speak.

Currently in beta, the Watson APIs are available to try for free through IBM’s Bluemix, a Heroku-style platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for cloud-based application development. Right now, developers are free to experiment with the new APIs all they want. IBM hasn’t been explicit about the pricing for commercial use, but Harbour tells Co.Labs that they plan on working with developers on a case-by-case basis to figure out a revenue-sharing agreement. So, if you want to use Watson’s smarts in a commercially available app, you’ll have to demonstrate to IBM that it has the potential to make money.

To get started, developers will have to sign up for Bluemix, through which the APIs will be available. From there, the process should be pretty straightforward for most devs. After getting familiar with the way these APIs work and making a standard REST API call, developers can query Watson using natural language, so extensive programming isn’t required. At launch, the platform will respond to typed verbiage, but Harbour says a voice-controlled interface is in the works too.

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“Your App Is About To Get Smarter: IBM Opens Watson To Developers”