Australia's immigration department is breaking new ground and taking part in a trial of cognitive computing with the aim of making its intelligence gathering more effective.

The department will use computer giant IBM's Watson programme to analyse unstructured data sources such as news feeds and government reports.

Significant gap between supply and demand of ICT skills in Australia

Significant gap between supply and demand of ICT skills in Australia​

The trial will last 11 months and Randall Brugeaud, Acting Deputy Secretary of Intelligence and Capability, said the department is looking at how cognitive computing can complement its existing set of risk management capabilities.

'The internet, coupled with modern information and communication technologies has the potential to serve up huge amounts of useful data to our analysts but this creates the risk of information overload,' he explained.

'We are hoping that Watson will allow us to more effectively manage the information overload problem by detecting signals in the very noisy world of unstructured, open source data. Being able to rapidly expose connections between otherwise isolated threads will allow us to become more effective in our mission,' he added.

The trial will involve up to 10 million open source documents relevant to selected strategic, operational and tactical intelligence activities and new documents will be added on a weekly basis.

Other Australian organisations who are utilising the platform include ANZ Bank which is feeding customer's relevant financial data into Watson manually on an anonymous basis to make a product recommendations, while Victoria's Deakin University is loading student records into the system for student support.

Brugeaud added that the use of Watson is part of a broader programme to enhance capabilities in the integration of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force which takes place on 01 July this year.

Watson is an IBM supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence and sophisticated analytical software for optimal performance as a question answering machine. The supercomputer is named for IBM's founder Thomas Watson.