Sentient Technologies, a potential IBM Watson rival focused on artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data, has raised $103.5 million in Series C funding.

Key financial backers include Access Industries, Tata Communications (Hong Kong), Horizons Ventures, and a group of private investors. ""Making sense of massive amounts of data is critical for consumer-facing digital businesses,” said Jörg Mohaupt from Access Industries, in a prepared statement.

Read between the lines and it sounds like Sentient is trying to solve some of the same business issues that IBM's Watson system has been pursuing. While Watson is best-known as a "supercomputer" of sorts, Sentient has a distributed artificial intelligence platform spanning millions of AI processing nodes. This system enables researchers to solve mission-critical problems, the company said in a prepared statement.

Sentient claims its product team has quietly demonstrated the platform's capabilities to financial trading and medical research companies.

True believers include Tata Communications, which is rolling out data center space, managed hosting and network services for Sentient. The companies say they plan to partner on a range of products and services. Sentient is also working on APIs to allow partners and customers to work more deeply with the system.

Still, it's unclear how much revenue Sentient currently generates. And the world of artificial intelligence is filled with IT development challenges. Early IBM Watson customers, for instance, experienced challenges rolling out applications. But more recently, IBM has been describing major milestones for the Watson business -- without necessarily disclosing actual revenues tied to the business.

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