The University of Southampton has begun a far-reaching initiative to redefine the future of research, powered by IBM Watson analytics.
Southampton is one of the first UK universities to make use of IBM's Watson analytics service, following its launch in September 2014.
Speaking at the IBM Connect event at Twickenham Stadium, asssitant vice-chancellor at the University of Southampton Russell Bentley said the collaboration with the tech giant would touch all areas of research at the university.
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"Watson will take us beyond what we can achieve in research," he said. "All areas of research – including medical, health science, marine and maritime, computing and computer science – are going to benefit from being able to do more and being able to do it better with the power of Watson."
By using the analytics engine within IBM Watson Bentley said people at the university would be able to analyse unstructured data in a way that would not have been feasible before.
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"Researchers today are in an environment that, less than a generation ago, was scarcely imaginable," he said.
Referring to the US mid-term elections, Bentley added: "What was the Obama miracle in 2008, where data was used in an unprecedented way, has been completely overtaken by his opponents’ ability to find out where voters are and get them out for the Republican party.
"Anyone who doubts this is the way of the future needs to look at this result to see how big data is being used by real people to affect all our lives."
Changing the nature of research
Watson will also power Southampton’s bespoke interdisciplinary modules that will be made available to 150 undergraduate and master's degree students.
According to Bentley, the analytics service makes it possible for researchers to ask questions that can only be answered through the analysis of vast amounts of unstructured data.
"Such research informs policy makers, political decisions and economic decisions. It also informs the criminal justice and legal system," he said.
In humanities Bentley said powerful analytical tools could bring new evidence to bear on old problems, revealing new meanings and taking archival research to an entirely different level.
"The ability to ask a question in natural language that can be answered by developing hypotheses from data means the fundamental characteristics of research has massively expanded its potential," he said. "It's not only the power to answer these questions, but suddenly we can start to see new questions to ask."
At the start of 2014, IBM fired up a $1bn initiative to monetise Watson analytics. Watson is now available as a cloud service and IBM is supporting developers building Watson analytics into their applications.