​IBM, Softbank partner on cognitive computing: Watson, meet Pepper

IBM and Softbank are collaborating to teach Watson Japanese as well as meld cognitive computing and Pepper the social robot.

IBM and Softbank have teamed up to bring the Watson cognitive computing platform to Japan, teach Japanese and integrate it with Pepper, the social robot.

The collaboration, which was outlined Tuesday, is an interesting inflection point for Watson. IBM is looking to broaden adoption and Japan, the third largest economy behind China and the U.S., represents Watson's first foray into a language that isn't based on the Western alphabet.

Under the partnership, IBM and Softbank will attempt to teach Watson to speak and think in Japanese, a language that is tricky to learn because of its kanji alphabet, which is a series of complex diagrams.

Should the IBM-Softbank partnership be successful, Watson could inform the actions of Pepper, which is a social robotics platform that aims to be a helper to the Japanese population.

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A Softbank unit is aiming to make Pepper the social robot mainstream.

Softbank has billed Pepper as a companion that's engaging, friendly and emotionally intelligent. Watson will give Pepper a larger knowledge base to work with and could make the robot more applicable to specific industries.

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A Watson app at work.

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A combination of Watson and Pepper, which is able to analyze body language, could rub off on both of the corporate parents. Will Watson be more able to read human cues via Pepper? Will Pepper become brainier?

Among the key points about the collaboration:

  • IBM and Softbank aim to produce Watson apps and services in Japan.
  • The two companies hope to build an ecosystem around Watson.
  • Softbank's enterprise footprint in Japan will complement IBM's.
  • IBM and Softbank aim to drop Watson services into multiple industries with an initial focus on education, banking, healthcare, insurance and retail.
  • The two companies will create local APIs and development platforms.
  • Softbank will be IBM's preferred delivery partner for Watson in Japan.
  • IBM Watson will be hosted in Softbank data centers in Japan.

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