Watson Will Help Former Soldiers With Financial Questions

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 28 2014 7:23 PM

Watson Will Help Former Soldiers With Financial Questions

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Meet the next generation financial planner.

Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images

Watson is IBM’s supercomputer, complete with artificial intelligence and a discerning palate. And now it’s going to work on helping military service members understand the nuances of the financial transition back to civilian life.

It may seem like a strange problem to try to solve as part of IBM’s effort to make Watson’s power available to consumers, but it’s actually exactly the type of thing Watson is good at. USAA is the insurance and financial planning firm for the military, and a lot of what the group does is inevitably answering complicated questions from servicemen and women transitioning back into civilian life. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 155,000 military members make the change every year. That’s a lot of questions to field. For example, do interest rates on a loan change when you’re moving from active duty to civilian life? And will you need different insurance coverage?

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As eWeek reports, Watson has analyzed more than 3,000 specialized military transition documents, so it knows all the rules and regulations about how to make the change. And its natural language processing allows it to understand real questions asked in diverse ways. That way, even if someone doesn’t know how to ask a question in the optimal way, Watson can still attempt to parse the meaning at the heart of what they're saying.

USAA said in a statement that it formed a team that worked with Watson for six months and trained the computer using 2,000 questions as a baseline. And Eric Engquist, USAA’s assistant vice president of Military Transitions, said, “USAA chose the topic of military separation for its first foray into the cognitive computing space because it provides a singular focus with a finite audience. … More importantly, it will enable USAA to provide relevant guidance during one of the most emotional and financially impactful decisions our military members will make during their career.”

Watson will be available through USAA’s website during a pilot run, and users will be asked to take a survey after they ask Watson their questions. Clearly, high-tech financial planning has moved beyond online tax preparation.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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