Would you like the opportunity to make a lasting impact on today’s most advanced intelligent computer system, be one of the first to help usher in a completely new era of technology, or even change our world’s various industries? If you said yes to any of the above, perhaps you belong in Professor Solomon Darwin’s and Donald Wroblewski’s newest course: Open Innovation, Leveraging IBM Watson.

Listed under UGBA 198, the course is a very far cry from a college student’s traditional academic experience. Unlike other courses on campus, UGBA 198’s curriculum is intricately tied to the leading multinational technology and consulting corporation of our country: International Business Machines, a corporation, better known simply as IBM. Recently, IBM partnered with seven of our country’s top technology universities – the University of California, Berkeley being one of them. UGBA 198, Professor Darwin’s and Wroblewski’s brainchild, is the product of this unique partnership. The intention of UGBA 198 is to incorporate student innovation with Watson – IBM’s artificially intelligent computer system that is capable of answering questions posed in natural language. Unlike other intelligent computer systems today, Watson is unique in that it learns by “reading” vast amounts of information rather than relying only on the information that is programmed into it – making the possibilities of its use in data dependent industries endless. In other words, Watson “grows” with knowledge as it processes new information that it then uses to pitch potential solutions to a specific problem – varying confidence levels and alternative choices included. By creating such a unique course, it is the hope of both UC Berkeley and IBM to provide students with the opportunity to leverage open innovation and apply their critical business and analytic thinking skills on a real life project that will have real life impacts on our everyday lives.

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The structure of UGBA 198 is like no other on campus. Instead of learning through lectures and readings, students are immersed in an environment completely reflective of today’s business and technology world. Students are divided into groups of five and are challenged to develop new cognitive computing applications for a variety of industries ranging from health care and finance. Although students are able to employ the use of Watson in these differing industries, UGBA 198 students are encouraged to delve deeper into the realm of healthcare. Professor Darwin’s close relationship with India’s renowned Apollo hospitals (Apollo’s current CEO and COO were themselves students of Darwin’s executive program class), gives students the opportunity to work with the largest healthcare association in the entire world. Apollo’s decision to give 12,000 patient records to our student app developers allows them to work with real-time data and further supports student goals of creating a tele-med app that will be relevant to 80% of the world population that lives outside of the United States and Europe. At the end of the course, Professor Darwin and Wroblewski will select the top 2-3 teams from their respective classes that they believe offer the most promising app ideas. From this semi-finalist pool, IBM will then personally select a finalist to represent each of the seven schools. These finalists will then compete for the grand prize of $100,000 in seed money to be used to launch their winning app idea and actualize their hard work.

Although students have expressed their initial intimidation with the course’s lack of traditional structure, they also see UGBA 198 as a once in a lifetime opportunity. UGBA 198 students are enthusiastic to work in a free-range environment and are also drawn by the opportunity to work on an “untouched” project. Students also note the unique interdisciplinary nature of the classroom. By collaborating with students across all different majors and studies, students are able to benefit from a truly interdisciplinary environment – one that is reflective of nearly any company’s synergic atmosphere. As student David Park put it, the opportunities that UGBA 198 offers is “like no other.”­