Emergence of cognitive systems in the post-digital world

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Nothing is more difficult to undertake, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its outcome, than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things. For the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old and lukewarm defenders amongst those who may do well under the new. Niccolo Machiavelli (1523)

This is the first post in the Digital Transformation in the Cognitive Business Era series where we will explore how cognitive systems like IBM Watson are redefining society, business and human interaction in the digital economy by helping people make better decisions.

Businesses in industries such as healthcare, life sciences, and retail are able to leverage data of all forms disrupting traditional processes and introducing innovative services on a personal scale. Powered by cloud based delivery models, these cognitive systems are not bound by traditional technical limitations. Instead, the cloud and the industrial hybrid cloud are the platforms which enable cognitive interactions with data generated from a variety of sources, creating insights and recommendations at an individual level.



The proliferation of apps, mobile devices, social networks and the Internet of Things (IoT) has resulted in an explosion of big data, ushering in the new cognitive era.

Cognitive computing will enable the digital transformation of society and business by learning and interacting naturally with people, extending – not replacing — what humans can do. A key differentiator of this cognitive era will be the use of unstructured data in the form of images, conversations, and free form text to create insights at a scale never seen before. Data which was previously “invisible to computers” will now be used by systems such as Watson to understand, reason, and learn providing a new field for innovation and meaningful assistance to users.

Seventy-eight percent of business and IT executives believe that employees will be managed alongside intelligent machines in the future (Accenture Technology Vision Study 2015).

To fully utilize cognitive computing, enterprises will need to eliminate functional silos, making data across the enterprise available for machines to interact with and learn from. A foundation can be built by holistically looking at the value intelligent capabilities provide and planning the correct strategy.

One example of how these systems will be providing assistance, consider that cognitive abilities allowed a Watson powered service to analyze over 70,000 scientific articles to identify a key protein related to many cancers within a few weeks.  According to Dr. Olivier Lichtarge, the principal investigator and professor of molecular and human genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, “Even if I’m reading five papers a day, it could take me nearly 38 years to completely understand all of the research already available today on this protein. Watson has demonstrated the potential to accelerate the rate and the quality of breakthrough discoveries.”

Throughout this series, we will be exploring and giving real world examples of how cognitive computing is currently addressing complex situations to transform businesses and society.

Senior Advisor, Cloud and Cognitive Computing, IBM Cloud

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