CUNY students turn Watson loose on NYC challenges

CUNY students turn Watson loose on NYC challenges

Aside from being undisputed world champion of the popular television trivia game show “Jeopardy!,” IBM’s supercomputer Watson is being used by college students to solve New York City’s biggest urban challenges. 

Students at the City University of New York (CUNY) competed for cash prizes and IBM internships as they designed apps that use Watson to improve city government services and educational outcomes. 

Watson’s unique features allow it to solve problems by quickly analyzing huge volumes of data, understanding complex questions posed in natural language, and proposing evidence-based answers that help improve decision-making, much like humans. 

Using this capability, students built their applications and got hands-on training that will give them valuable technology and business skills necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s data-driven workplace. 

The first place team in the CUNY-IBM Watson competition designed a virtual case worker assistant to ameliorate hurdles and difficulties facing New York’s social workers.  The app provides case workers with reports while analyzing various patterns specific to the social work industry.  The app’s creators believe it will greatly cut down on time spent performing administrative tasks and allow social workers to better serve their constituencies. 

The second place team developed an app called SmartCall, which delivers a more organized and efficient 311 information bulletin service to New Yorkers. The SmartCall app will be able to predict complaints using data from the city to resolve concerns faster. 

Lastly, the third place team created an education tool called Advyzer that will advise undergraduate students and their counselors and recommend educational tracks based on the student’s learning preferences and graduation requirements.  The app also takes into account the student’s career goals and suggests course schedules based on such information. 

"The partnership with IBM offers students the opportunity to look into the future and the way society does business and provides services. It empowers students to shape the future that they will inherit," said Stan Altman, professor at Baruch College School of Public Affairs.

Students competing came from a wide variety of majors such as computer science, marketing, economics, math, urban studies, and finance.  All the contestants regardless of where they finished, were able to enroll in summer internships where they can put their applications to use through business and student-led ventures.      

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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