Elmo and Watson team up for early childhood education

Big Blue's cognitive computing platform is teaming up with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, to design interactive educational tools for children.

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IBM's Watson is getting a place on Sesame Street.

Big Blue's cognitive computing platform is teaming up with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, to design interactive educational tools for children that adapt to the learning preferences and aptitude levels of individual preschoolers.

IBM describes the effort as a three-year R&D investment, with plans to assemble a team of engineers, teachers, gamers and researchers to brainstorm how cognitive computing can be best applied to preschool education.

IBM and Sesame want to focus on this particular age group based off of research suggesting that 90 percent of a child's brain is developed by the age of five.

The alliance will merge Sesame Workshop's educational content expertise with Watson's natural language processing, pattern recognition, and other cognitive computing technologies. With the help of Watson's machine learning chops, the technology will continuously iterate and improve by studying and adapting to the aggregate experiences of anonymized groups of students.

Eventually, the companies plan to test and share prototypes with the education and technology communities to see what sticks. So far some early concepts include super-smart Elmo dolls that can engage with and adapt to a child's development; Watson-based learn-to-read apps; and classroom tools that could aid teachers in creating individualized learning for children.

"We can't predict every turn this partnership will take; we don't know yet what the platform will look like, or what apps and programs will be developed," said Sesame Workshop CEO Jeffrey Dunn. "That's the exciting part. We're pooling our interests, our experience, our passion, our commitment, and our fervent belief that we can make learning better. We're going to do it for our kids -- and for the world's shared future."

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