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This Jan. 13, 2011 photo provided by IBM shows the IBM computer system known as Watson at IBM's T.J. Watson research center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Just seven months after International Business Machines Corp. announced it would begin teaching its Watson computer system to fight cybercrime, the company is graduating Watson to the next level of instruction.

Caleb Barlow, vice-president of IBM Security, says 40 organizations will begin beta testing of the cognitive technology.

"The learning process is going well. Part of this is getting it out there to several beta customers including the University of New Brunswick, California State Polytechnic, Sun Life Financial, University of Rochester Medical Centres and others," Mr. Barlow said in an interview.

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Watson – IBM's question answering computer system – was originally designed to compete (and win) on the television quiz show Jeopardy, but the technology has since been used on other problem-solving projects, from clothing design to cancer.

Mr. Barlow says by teaching Watson to track reports, blogs and other information on emerging threats they'll be able to assist companies facing cyberattacks.

"It's not just about learning the language of security. We want it to learn the language of security in the context of real world environments and the context of a diverse set of industries," he said. "The language of security in a health-care company like University of Rochester Medical Centre is probably going to be a little different than what we're going to see for example at an energy company."

Ali Ghorbani, UNB's dean of computer science, said the beta testing will provide valuable experience for his students.

"They'll be amongst the very first ones to actually work with IBM to gain real world experience in this area," Mr. Ghorbani said.

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"Our students will be teaching Watson and then testing and validating the training," he said.

Mr. Barlow said cognitive technology will help security teams find and detect cyberthreats, but it won't replace humans.

"The amount of structured data that is coming in is really astounding. On average now, a good sized security operation centre will see 200,000 pieces of data a day – security related incidents or events," he said.

He said by 2020, there will be two million unfilled cybersecurity jobs.

"We have to be able to come up with tooling to allow you to augment your work force. We can't solve this with people alone. We need to be able to mine and access these large data environments to be able to figure out what the priority tasks are to work on," Mr. Barlow said.

For now, Watson won't take action against any cyberthreat. Instead it will offer advice on what to do.

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Mr. Barlow said it's unclear how much beta testing Watson will need before it's ready to take on the job of combatting cyberthreats. He said it all depends on how fast Watson learns.

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