IBM is set to offer free access to its Watson artificial intelligence system

IBM is set to offer free access to its Watson artificial intelligence system, in a move expected to place AI firmly in the mainstream of global business.

Starting in November, companies worldwide will be able to perform a range of tasks — from translations to personality tests — through a cloud-based platform at no charge. The U.S. information technology giant will also encourage individual IT engineers and students to use the system to develop new services.

Facing stiff competition with U.S. giants Google and Amazon.com, IBM aims to set the standard for AI with a broad scope.

Aside from translations and personality analysis based on written text, Watson’s functions include conversational abilities and decision-making support driven by dialogue. It can also be used for big data analytics and data processing for the internet of things — the vast web of connected devices.

The conversation function, for example, would enable a company to set up a customer service website that automatically responds to inquiries with computer-generated answers.

By letting businesses use Watson’s basic functions for free, IBM hopes to raise awareness of what Watson can do. Certain capabilities, such as speech to text conversion and image recognition, will still be subject to fees.

IBM has already offered free three-month test-drives of Watson, but signing up for the longer term entailed fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.

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