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IBM increases access to Watson technology

LAS VEGAS — Welcome to the age of supercomputing for everyone.

On Thursday IBM will announce that Watson, the computing system that beat all the humans on “Jeopardy!” two years ago, will be available in a form more than twice as powerful via the Internet. Companies, academics, and individual software developers will be able to use it at a small fraction of the previous cost, drawing on IBM’s specialists in fields like computational linguistics to build machines that can interpret complex data and better interact with humans.

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IBM’s move to make its marquee technology more widely available is the latest effort among big technology companies to make the world’s most powerful computers as accessible as the “Angry Birds” video game. It is also an indication of how quickly the technology industry is changing, from complex systems that cost millions to install to pay-as-you-go deals that provide small companies and even individuals access to technology that just a few years ago only the largest companies could afford.

IBM is wielding Watson in a fight to control the world of cloud computing with other big technology companies like Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft. It is no coincidence that IBM discussed its Watson news the same week Amazon was hosting clients at a conference here to pitch its own computing cloud.

The competition is still young, but its impact will be significant.

“Companies, governments, and people will struggle to figure out what to do with all this,” said Jamie Popkin, a Gartner analyst. “It means there is going to be a new pace and velocity, making people rethink when humans make decisions, while machines make other decisions.”

Watson is prominent, but similar projects are being run by other companies. On Tuesday, a company appearing at an Amazon conference said it had run in 18 hours a project on Amazon’s cloud of computer servers that would have taken 264 years on a single server.

The project cost $33,000, compared with an estimated $68 million to build and run a similar computer just a few years ago.

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