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IBM CEO: We're Widening Watson's Reach

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- IBM (IBM) CEO Ginni Rometty gave a peek into the company's efforts to make money out off its Watson supercomputer during her first public speech since taking the tech giant's reins last year.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based firm unveiled the first commercial technologies based on its Watson supercomputer earlier this year, targeting the lucrative health care sector.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Thursday evening, Rometty explained how IBM is extending Watson's reach into other industries.

"We have been working with financial services and telcos on call centers," she said. "In the call centers in the world, typical call center, the operator or adviser you speak to spends 60% of their time trying to find the information to answer your question, looking for documentation. In the pilots we have done, we have been able to cut this in half and more."

The CEO attributed Watson's success in call centers to the system's ability to ingest, immediately recall and also associate vast quantities of information.

Rometty urged her audience to recognize the sophistication of Watson, which made a headline-grabbing debut on Jeopardy in 2011. "It's not a big giant search machine," she said. "It learns -- at the time [of Jeopardy] it ingested millions of documents, and it understands natural language."

In the medical space, Watson has already ingested 2 million to 3 million different documents, 42 publications in their entirety and 600,000 medical evidence cases, according to Rometty. "It's being trained to do two things," she added: to serve as a doctor's "treatment adviser," and to boost efficiency between health insurance companies and medical service providers.

WellPoint (WLP), for example, has used Watson to build technology for streamlining the review processes between a patient's physicians and their health plan, which it said will speed up approvals.

Watson is part of IBM's push to drive dollars from the booming big data trend and the growing need for sophisticated analytics technology.

Big data refers to the management of vast quantities of unstructured data, or information that is outside the realm of traditional databases. Examples include email messages, PowerPoint presentations, audio, video and social media information.

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