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USC Students compete in IBM Watson Case Competition

USC hosts the IBM Watson Case Competition, where students compete to find practical uses for Watson, IBM's supercomputer
February 26, 2013 —
Judgment · Jayashree Subrahmonia, vice president of engineering and delivery for Watson Solutions, and Nick Orrick, software engineer for Watson Solutions, presented and judged at the weekend competition.
Student presenters/competitors at the IBM Watson Case Competition hosted at USC.
Final five teams of student competitors.
The winning team. (From right to left: Yingchao Lin, Electrical Engineering Economics/Mathematics; Celine Di, Communications and Italian, senior; Sophie Xu, ISE, senior; Daniel Wang, Business Administration, junior.)

The International Business Machines Watson Case Competition, which challenged students to think outside the box with Watson technologies, was held this weekend with more than 100 student participants, faculty judges and IBM executives in attendance.

The competition, which was held on the West Coast for the first time, joined multiple schools within USC including the Marshall School of Business, Viterbi School of Engineering, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Leventhal School of Accounting. In 2012, the competition was held at Cornell University, and in 2011 it was at the University of Rochester.

The competition was created as a result of an invention the company created in 2011. IBM invented Watson, a supercomputer, because it wanted to create a computer that could be competitive on the television game show, Jeopardy! Watson can compile, for instance, huge amounts of information from all corners of the Internet to answer complicated questions, such as the ones found on the game show.

The computer itself relies on cognitive computing, similar to the human brain. With these findings, IBM created a ninth division to their company, Watson Solutions, and implemented this technology in the fields of health care, finance and call centers.

Twenty-five interdisciplinary teams, comprising four people each, participated on Friday. Two of the team members of each team were required to be Marshall and Viterbi students. Teams then gave a five-minute pitch to the panel of USC professors, IBM representatives and professionals. The judges then selected five of those teams to give a 20-minute presentation that included a 15-minute question-and-answer session with IBM officials.

Students were given 48 hours to find a way to put the IBM Watson technology to work in practical matters. They had to determine possible benefits to the market and the target audience for these services.

The final presentations were given Sunday afternoon.

Mingbo Gong, a junior majoring in accounting and business administration, had the idea to host the competition at USC. He interned with IBM and reached out to the company via LinkedIn about hosting the competition at USC. Gong said engineering and business effectively work together.

“There are other options and business is not just focused on finances,” Gong said. “There are so many ways to implement business engineering, you can work with fashion or architecture.”

Gong was also impressed by how quick the response was from IBM. The company responded within three days to begin setting up the competition at USC.

“I feel that we started from nothing — Ming’s LinkedIn message — to everything we have today. It’s very inspiring,” said Anna Lin, a sophomore majoring in business administration.

Some students said combining the two disciplines will enhance the competition.

“Business and engineering should work together,” said Eric Pakravan, a student majoring in business administration.

The event was co-sponsored by Marshall Business Student Government, National Organization of Business and Engineering, Business Technology Networking Group and the Association for Computing Machinery.

Article and photograph republished with permission of the Daily Trojan