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Cognitive computing promises to change the game

Anup Varier | Dec. 5, 2013
At a time when humans are clearly reaching the limits of what we can absorb and understand, the main benefit of having machines working alongside humans is the ability to access the best of both worlds.

When Kenneth Wayne Jennings, noted for holding the record for the longest winning streak of 74 games on the US syndicated game show, bowed to IBM's Watson as the new "Jeopardy!" champ in 2011, he quoted an episode of "The Simpsons" and wrote "I for one welcome our new computer overlords," on his video screen. That was probably one small step for a computer but a giant leap for computing.

It's ironic to say that Watson's dominance on the game show didn't come out of the blue. The result was a culmination of over a decade of IBM's research, much of which was centered at the India labs. The victory, however, wasn't the end but the beginning of a new era. "It opened up a new chapter in information technology called cognitive computing — based on the idea of a natural interaction between systems and people," says Zachary (Zach) Lemnios, VP of Strategy for IBM Research.

And this evolving relationship between humans and machines was also the key theme of Gartner's "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2013." Gartner says it chose to feature the relationship between humans and machines due to the increased hype around smart machines, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things.

It's no secret that organizations today, across industry, are overwhelmed with so much data that they are unable to make time-critical decisions. Not only is the data growing by leaps and bounds it is also coming in multiple shapes and forms. "These increasingly challenging times need organizations to make tighter decisions in tighter timelines with the consequence of each decision going up," says Zach.

In such a scenario, probably a closer look at the interaction between humans and computers is called for. "We encourage enterprises to look beyond the narrow perspective that only sees a future in which machines and computers replace humans. In fact, by observing how emerging technologies are being used by early adopters, there are actually three main trends at work," says Jackie Fenn, vice president and Gartner fellow.

These trends in Fenn's view are, "augmenting humans with technology — for example, an employee with a wearable computing device; machines replacing humans — for example, a cognitive virtual assistant acting as an automated customer representative; and humans and machines working alongside each other — for example, a mobile robot working with a warehouse employee to move many boxes."

Of these major trends shaping the emerging technologies domain, IBM is focused on cognitive computing which is also broadly classified under the natural-language question and answering systems. Zach explains the relevance of cognitive computing in the context of network security. "Networks today are entirely ad hoc, largely mobile, and a mashup of consumer and industrial grade systems and they are vulnerable because they are so changeable that it allows access to attackers," he says.

 

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