Using IBM Watson for Discovery and Research Support: A Library-Industry Partnership at Auburn University
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Researchers at the Auburn University Libraries are collaborating with cross-campus units and private companies to explore the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) tools to scholarly repositories, structured and unstructured datasets, and the open web. The goal is twofold: to develop hands-on AI/ML expertise in the libraries and to better position the libraries to support and participate in Auburn University’s research activities. This chapter describes an exploratory project the libraries are working on with the IBM Research Triangle Park Center for Advanced Studies (IBM RTP-CAS) on using the IBM Watson Studio of AI/ML services to build natural-language query interfaces for scholarly repositories and datasets in specific subject domains. Since 2017, the libraries have been providing high-level information technology support and subject-matter expertise to the Military REACH Project, which is based in the College of Human Sciences (CHS) at Auburn University and funded by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Defense. The mission of the Military REACH Project is to support US military families and family readiness by translating academic research and other resources into practical applications. A key component of the project is the design and development of a publicly accessible, easy-to-navigate library of research publications and other resources on military life and family health, delivered through a user-friendly website. With IBM’s help, the Watson suite of tools and services is being used to build an AI/ML-powered query interface and recommendation system for the Military REACH Library and public datasets in the same field. In this chapter, the authors discuss the larger library and professional context for this project, its background and rationale, the deliverables they are producing, and the technical, logistical, and administrative challenges that they have encountered in this effort. The goal is to provide other academic libraries with a model for embarking on similar projects and a clear understanding of the benefits and challenges involved.