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iSchool Students Place 2nd at IBM Competition in New York

Submitted on Monday, December 05, 2016

ibm-watson_nyMaster of Information students Shuai Wang and Akash Venkat — part of the winning University of Toronto (U of T) team that built a “digital legal expert” for the IBM Watson Cognitive Computing Competition last month — placed an admirable 2nd in New York while competing in the final leg of the contest against seven elite American schools for a chance to win $100,000 in seed capital to take their product to market. Congratulations to the University of Austin for the win.

The contest began when International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) asked 10 elite schools, including Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Toronto, to put together teams at each University using its famous Jeopardy-playing super-computer, named Watson. U of T was the only Canadian institution invited to participate.

In December, through a Computer Science course taught by Steve Engels, Mario Grech, and Helen Kontozopoulos, five U of T teams competed against each other in a challenge to develop an entrepreneurial intelligence-based legal application, using Watson’s cognitive computing engine through its cloud computing system.

U of T students from the Department of Computer Science and the Faculty of Information, Jimoh Ovbiagele, Shuai Wang, Akash Venkat, Pargles Wenz Dall’Oglio and Andrew Arruda reigned supreme after successfully pitching their business model — an “electronic paralegal” system called “Ross” — aimed at assisting lawyers with case research. Judges said the team won for its use of the technology, and its succinct business plan.

The team’s ultimate goal is to build a great Canadian company.

The iSchool Connection

Shuai and Akash agree that the artificial intelligence competition taught them valuable business skills that will serve them well no matter what they do in their careers.

Kelly Lyons, a Professor at the Faculty of Information (iSchool) and Department of Computer Science, says she is quite pleased —and not at all surprised — that the winning team in the Watson Challenge is a collaboration involving iSchool and Computer Science students. “Designing and building a sophisticated, useful, and important application requires the diversity and breadth of knowledge delivered through our finely tuned programs.”

Shuai, a first year iSchool student, and Akash, a second year student, say their education at the University, especially from a course taught by iSchool Professor Eric Yu, helped them bring the skills they learned in class to their project.

“These exemplary entrepreneurs are leveraging leading-edge technology to fuel their career goals,” says Professor Yu. “I am proud to have iSchoolers in New York representing our city and university in the first-ever Watson Challenge!”

How it Works

Helping lawyers reduce research time is key to the functioning of Ross, the students say. All teams were given access to Watson on the cloud, which allowed them to feed the computer program large amounts of text from Ontario corporate law decisions and statutes as reference material.

The super computer Watson then processed that information, and the students’ application, Ross makes that data accessible to lawyers and legal researchers. Ross can, for example, suggest readings, or answer a wide variety of legal precedent questions, at any point in a legal process. It even provides a percentage number rating how confident it is on the accuracy of search results. Ross also alerts the user to new cases or results on their smart phone.

According to the inventors, Ross takes seconds to spit out legal research that might take others hours to gather. “Lawyers could use Ross’ artificial intelligence to transform the practice of law, and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve,” says Akash.

The student inventors warn though, that Ross doesn’t make lawyers unnecessary, clients just may need to hire fewer of them.

Congratulations to the UofT team!

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