Watson to help soldiers adjust to civilian life

Supercomputer’s brain can be picked regarding tax, pensions, job information and other benefits

 IBM Watson supercomputer has been integrated into a cloud-based tool from USAA, a financial services provider for the military community.  Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

IBM Watson supercomputer has been integrated into a cloud-based tool from USAA, a financial services provider for the military community. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Mon, Aug 4, 2014, 01:05

IBM Ireland’s Vincent McKey has said the introduction of the company’s cognitive technology supercomputer, Watson, into an online guide that helps US military personnel readjust to civilian life will be followed by a number of “insurance, wealth management and healthcare” products utilising the technology in the near future.

Watson, which up to now had been known mainly for beating human competitors on US general knowledge gameshow Jeopardy!, has been integrated into a cloud-based tool from USAA, a financial services provider for the military community.

The USAA and IBM link-up marks the first product to commercialise the use of Watson as a consumer-facing application.

“It makes recommendations and backs up recommendations and why it sends you down a specific path,” said McKey, IBM Ireland’s business development manager.

“It has that capability of sending you down a path that’s more suited or more geared towards your capabilities and expertise.”

Those among the 155,000-plus people leaving the US military each year can pick Watson’s brain on questions regarding tax, pensions, job information, military benefits and other items stored on more than 3,000 documents related to military transitions which Watson has examined.

Specific queries can include “how do I make the most of the post-9/11 GI Bill”, a program that provides up to 36 months of education benefits.

Blackrock-based career consultant Andrée Harpur has worked with a number of military personnel as they step back into a more regular working life, and she welcomed the “Engagement Advisor” as the Watson-USAA project is officially known.

“I think it’s brilliant for concrete information – a lot of people leaving the army would need to know about their benefits, pensions, how to invest their lump sum, how to manage that and that kind of thing.”

John Deely, an organisational psychologist with career guidance company Pinpoint, told The Irish Times that while initial advice on a post-military life would certainly be helped by the Engagement Advisor, many ex-military personnel will still likely to have some “key questions” to answer from a career perspective in particular, once they log off from the USAA website.

Ms Harpur agreed: “I would find with all of my clients without exception, nobody goes straight from A to Z – there are always mitigating factors and those factors require subtle bits of information and that’s probably where sitting opposite somebody one-to-one comes in.”