IBM buys Cognea, will add its virtual assistant technology to Watson

The deal is part of IBM's plans to commercialize Watson

IBM has acquired virtual assistant software startup Cognea, with plans to roll its capabilities into the Watson cognitive computing platform.

Cognea's virtual assistants "relate to people using a wide variety of personalities -- from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM's Watson Group, in a blog post. "We believe this focus on creating depth of personality, when combined with an understanding of the users' personalities will create a new level of interaction that is far beyond today's 'talking' smartphones."

That seeming swipe at the likes of Apple's Siri underscores the depth of IBM's ambitions in the virtual assistant and artificial intelligence market.

"I'm not talking about just giving the computer a simple command or asking a simple question," Rhodin said in the blog post. "That's yesterday's technology. I'm talking about more realistic conversations -- everything from friendly chitchat to intense debate."

The Cognea deal follows IBM's investments in Fluid, which makes a shopping assistant application, and Welltok, which develops online health-care community sites. IBM did not disclose financial terms of the Cognea acquisition.

IBM made a big splash with Watson in 2011, when the computer system defeated former champions of the game show "Jeopardy," and subsequently has tried to commercialize the technology.

Earlier this year, IBM announced it would invest more than US$1 billion to create the business group Rhodin now leads, including $100 million in startup companies creating applications on its Watson-powered development cloud.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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