The Australian Defence Department granted IBM Australia a $4 million, 3 year contract for the provision of its Watson cognitive computing infrastructure. The platform provides a cognitive, artificial intelligence and machine learning capability for use by Defence and is only the second on-premises instance of Watson globally.

Matt Smorhun, Assistant Secretary for the ICT Strategy Realisation Branch at the Department of Defence said they decided to “just buy this thing” and then work out how it was going to fit into the organisation later. (Which did strike us as a rather strange approach to spending tax payers dollars – but congrats to the IBM sales person who pulled that off!)

Fortunately they have now worked out how it fits by using it to sort through 40 million unused documents containing data from previous Australian deployments in the Middle East. From the data Watson is able to answer questions in around 16 seconds, and Smorhun is optimistic that the lessons embedded in the data are of real strategic value for future deployments.

The Department has recognised 14 use cases across all services within the organisation including analysing and improving weapons systems. Watson is able to use video of weapons testing to re-calculate trajectories within 2.2 hours, a reduction of 4.6 hours between tests.

The Department’s Watson platform is an accredited secret, which allows for sensitive information to be stored inside. However this means that it does not receive the updates in line with the cloud version of the platform, which Smorhun admits is a “tricky space” and that he is “yet to see this thing actually learn anything”. (We will leave readers to raise their own eyebrows to that statement!)

In any event, with a license for 52 million documents, the Department will be able to pump in vast amounts information for Watson to learn.

The potential of the platform is obviously very exciting, and we can’t help but be a little envious of the Department’s ability to “just buy the thing” and worry about its uses later.