Cognitive for the greater good at the Watson Developer Conference

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Three years ago, I decided to learn how to code. A large part of the reason why I decided to embark on a career in tech was to empower myself with the ability to create an application, thereby providing value to society.

I was reminded once again why I chose to go down this route during IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty’s opening presentation at the Watson Developer Conference in San Francisco this November. Rometty invited Joshua Browder, a 19 year-old student at Stanford and co-founder of DoNotPay, and Ashok Goel, professor of computer science at Georgia Institute of Technology, on stage with her.

Watson Developer Conference

Browder was there to talk about the DoNotPay application he created. With it, users can appeal parking tickets automatically and — get this — for free. Browder said he was inspired to create his savvy legal bot after receiving a hefty number of parking tickets. I think it’s safe to say we can all relate to this dilemma.

According to Browder, his bot has successfully appealed 4 million in tickets in New York and London. This is, quite frankly, mind-boggling. Legal services are some of the most sought-after and costly services that most people use at some point in their lives. The problem is that most of us can barely afford legal fees. This application saves not only money, but also the time and headaches necessary to find legal counsel.

What’s even more impressive — and touching — was the direction in which Browder announced he is taking his application development efforts. He intends to use Watson Language Translator to create an application with an Arabic language feature to aide Syrian refugees through the legal technicalities of seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Cognitive is not only applicable in the business domain, but can also be applied to multiple domains, including the advancement of human rights.

Goel discussed how he secretly created a teaching assistant (TA) bot using the Conversation API for his online artificial intelligence course. With only nine teaching assistants and 300 students, Goel’s bot, “Jill Watson,” reduced some of the TA workload in the class-wide forum, answering questions about the class, assignments and the subject matter.

Using the Conversation API and training in natural language classes, student teams at Georgia Tech used 1,200 question-answer pairs that enabled them to train and chat with Watson to answer engineering, systems, architecture and computing questions. Comically, only at the end of the semester, Professor Goel unveiled that Jill Watson was not an actual person. Professor Goel’s approach scores an A in my book.

As I reflected throughout the day, I concluded that the benefits and democratization of cognitive and cloud computing technology in 2016 are truly a privilege. The types of problems we can solve are not unique to one domain, and the technology is easily and quickly accessible through cloud computing and the API economy.

It is an unprecedented time to live in a society in which the tools of modern technology merge with creative minds to solve business and social issues spanning the fields of healthcare, law, education and international relations. With that in mind, my question to you is: what will you create? As John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what can your country do for you, but what can you do for your country?”

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