Informatics Team Earns Top 10 Spot in IBM Watson Competition

June 14, 2017 at 12:08 pm

A team of University of South Carolina Upstate Master of Science students has landed in the top 10 out of 210 teams that entered the 2017 IBM Watson Analytics Global Competition.

The USC Upstate team’s project, “Examining the Relationship between Air Pollution, Temperature, and Respiratory Diseases in Beijing,” came in at No. 10 in the competition, according to Dr. Ron Fulbright, chair, Department of Informatics. The USC Upstate team included informatics graduate students Mingwen Zheng, Ximena Andrade and Ron Patane; they were advised by Dr. Ning Yu.

The competition was held this spring, with the teams using data supplied by IBM. The projects were judged based on videos the teams made that detailed their projects and findings. Teams used IBM’s powerful Watson analytics to discern correlations among the various groups of data. In the case of the USC Upstate team, members analyzed four sets of data from a specific timeframe in Beijing: average daily air pollution; average daily temperature; daily counts of respiratory emergency-room visits; and Twitter hashtags #Beijing and #smog.

Fulbright said that participating in this type of competition helps prepare students for post-graduate careers. Team members even received credit for their work on the project as an independent study, he said.

“Data analytics is probably one of the premier jobs out there in the world right now,” Fulbright explained. “Everybody wants to analyze data; everybody wants to analyze big data, which is enormous stores of data. Everybody wants to get some kind of business, economic advantage by knowing something about data that nobody else knows. This tool (Watson) is probably the leading tool right now, and it’s the future. For the next several decades, data analytics is going to be based on tools like this.”

TV fans might remember IBM’s Watson as the computer that defeated two previous champions on the popular gameshow “Jeopardy” in 2011, but Fulbright said IBM has much larger plans for Watson.

“They didn’t build (Watson) to win ‘Jeopardy,’” Fulbright said. “They built it as a different kind of computer system, called a cognitive system. … What they are doing now is commercializing Watson. There are thousands of development projects underway right now to build something based on the Watson technology. It has gone far beyond what won Jeopardy in 2011. IBM is betting billions of dollars on this as being a platform technology for the future.”