SoftBank Enlists Japanese-Speaking IBM Watson As Profit Falls

IBM has announced that it is teaming up with Japanese telco SoftBank to train its supercomputer Watson to speak Japanese.

SoftBank, which also owns Yahoo! Japan, will be able to market the offering in the education, banking, healthcare, and retail industries in Japan.

“We believe people who speak many different languages want to use Watson—and most people on the planet do not have English as their native language,” said Michael Karasick, head of innovations for IBM’s Watson team.


Watson’s learning method starts with the consumption of copious amounts of data. In cancer research, that means reading stacks of scientific papers. With cooking, it’s digesting recipes.

Whereas learning languages begins with absorbing the meaning of words and phrases and the rules of sentence construction. Watson is fed annotated sentences in a parsing exercise known as syntactic sentence diagramming. “Quantity matters,” said Salim Roukos, IBM Research’s senior manager, Multilingual NLP Technologies & CTO Translation Technologies. “Quantity leads to quality.”

Long battle

The announcement came alongside Softbank reporting that its Q3 operating profit declined 5.9 percent from October through December.

Missing analyst estimates, the company continues to pay for the 2012 acquisition of US mobile operator Sprint Corp.

SoftBank said its third quarter operating profit was 191.39 billion yen (£1bn) , down from 203.46 billion yen (£1.1bn) the same time last year.

SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son told reporters in Tokyo: “Overall, SoftBank is doing well, but with Sprint…being in a tough situation, I think it will have a long battle to fight.”

SoftBank took over Sprint to attempt to bolster its profits overseas, but as the US firm cut jobs and revitalised its networks, a subscriber haemorrhage has taken its toll on SoftBank. The telco has booked a loss of 29.51 billion yen to cover in severance costs associated Sprint job cuts.

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Ben Sullivan

Ben covers web and technology giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft and their impact on the cloud computing industry, whilst also writing about data centre players and their increasing importance in Europe. He also covers future technologies such as drones, aerospace, science, and the effect of technology on the environment.

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