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Students learn about Watson the computer

Digital Harbor High School was teeming with IBM employees preparing to educate middle-school students Wednesday morning about the supercomputer known as "Watson," made famous by its appearance on the TV show "Jeopardy!"

IBM President and CEO Sam Palmisano, a Baltimore native and Johns Hopkins University graduate, sponsored and attended the event, which was part of a worldwide "Celebration of Service" day to promote math, science and technology throughout the world.

Students who attended the event were introduced to Watson through videos and activities in which they learned about ambiguity, or words that might confuse the computer. They even created their own sample "Jeopardy!" questions.

Deoveon Bratcher, 12, a student at Patterson Park Public Charter School, said she learned a lot. Though she did not watch Watson on "Jeopardy!" when it beat two humans in February, she "knew that he was a supercomputer" and was impressed by his ability to answer tough questions but surprised when she learned that he was not perfect.

"I learned that he's not always correct … [but] he can change the world," Deoveon said.

This positive response supported Palmisano's goal of having students become more active and interested in the creation and use of technology. He said that most of today's problems can be solved by using "smarter technologies," and that IBM used Watson as a way to make this problem-solving exciting and interesting.

Palmisano also stressed the importance of his partnerships in Baltimore by repeatedly referring to the collaboration between IBM's Watson and University of Maryland's School of Medicine. The computer has gone to med school in an effort to use Watson's voice recognition technologies to improve health care, Palmisano said. The outcome could be a computerized physician's assistant.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was also in attendance and expressed her gratitude to Palmisano for remaining close to his roots.

"We're proud that you've chosen your hometown," Rawlings-Blake said. "I'm proud to call IBM a partner."

More than 300,000 IBM employees in more than 120 countries participated in the Celebration of Service day. About 150 of those employees completed their volunteer work in Baltimore.

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