Posted in: Cognitive Computing

Progress in AI, through collaborative research

IBM’s Cognitive Horizons Network is advancing the science behind cognitive computing by working with the best minds

It seems that every day we learn about a new application of cognitive computing. From identifying more effective cancer treatments to analyzing NBA draft picks, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence have arrived and are making a measurable difference in our daily lives.

TOP ROW (left to right): Anupam Joshi, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Yoshua Bengio, University of Montreal; Jim Hendler, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Jim DiCarlo, Massachusetts Institute Technology BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Satinder Singh Baveja, University of Michigan; Guru Banavar, Chief Science Officer, Cognitive Computing and VP, IBM Research; Wen-Mei Hwu, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Leaders in Artificial Intelligence research: IBM Research Cognitive Horizons Network members
TOP ROW (left to right): Anupam Joshi, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Yoshua Bengio, University of Montreal; Jim Hendler, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; James DiCarlo, Massachusetts Institute Technology
BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Satinder Singh Baveja, University of Michigan; Guru Banavar, Chief Science Officer, Cognitive Computing and VP, IBM Research; Wen-Mei Hwu, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

But with all the excitement around real-world applications of this powerful technology, it’s easy to forget that the Cognitive Era, as we call it at IBM, is still in its infancy. And there is a tremendous amount of work yet to be done.  Just recently, we wrote about preparing for the future of AI and how it will change the world in our response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s request for information which can be found here.

As a researcher, I know that collaborating with leading minds around the world is the key to fulfilling the true potential of cognitive computing. And that’s why IBM is forming the Cognitive Horizons Network (CHN), a network of the world’s leading universities committed to working with IBM to accelerate the development of core technologies needed to advance the promise of cognitive computing.

We announced the CHN today at our 5th annual IBM Research Cognitive Colloquium held this year at the T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. Both the Colloquium and the CHN has brought together hundreds of leaders in the field to work toward creating a shared vision of cognitive computing and stimulating meaningful discussions on research directions and anticipated breakthroughs.

This ongoing collaboration is critical. Though we have made incredible strides over the last five years — since IBM Watson first competed on and won Jeopardy! — there are several areas of computer science & engineering, cognitive science, and several application domains like medicine, accounting, and law that need to be advanced and brought together if cognitive systems are going to meet the demands of the digital world. In fact, the entire cognitive computing stack — from how people collaborate to make decisions to building advanced computing infrastructure — must be evolved if we are to keep pace.

IBM is investing heavily to bring together hundreds of researchers across universities in multi-year partnerships that form the foundation of the CHN. But we’re kicking the program off with six leading academic institutions, each with a particular area of focus:

  • IBM’s latest research partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is to advance the area of video comprehension, i.e., to develop systems that emulate the human ability to understand and integrate inputs from multiple sources of audio and visual information into a detailed computer representation of the world. This can be used in a variety of applications in industries such as healthcare, education, and entertainment. The IBM-MIT Laboratory for Brain-Inspired Multi-Media Machine Comprehension (BM3C) will be headed by Professor James DiCarlo, Head of the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences at MIT, who says, “We believe that our fields are poised to make key advances in the very challenging domain of unassisted real-world audio-visual understanding using next-generation models of the mind, and we are looking forward to this new collaboration.”
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is working with IBM to build cognitive and immersive environments that explore and advance natural human-computer collaborative problem-solving and develop new analytic capabilities with the goal of improving how people and machines can work together to make complex decisions. The Cognitive and Immersive Systems Lab (CISL) is creating a “situations room” that can be customized for many kinds of decision-making environments where collaboration between people and machines can lead to better outcomes, including board rooms, classrooms, diagnosis rooms, design studios and more. As Jim Hendler, Director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications at RPI, says, “The new partnership builds on our work in the Watson project, where our organizations have been working together to push the state of the art in bringing humans and cognitive computers into closer interaction in areas such as finance, pedagogy, and advanced healthcare analytics. We are excited by the synergies that the CHN will bring through increased collaboration with other world-class university groups and we are proud to be partners in developing the new generation of complete cognitive computing systems.”
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) is working with IBM to develop optimized systems — the stack of applications, accelerators, software, hardware and networking needed to support larger and more complex cognitive workloads. The goal of the IBM-Illinois Center for Cognitive Computing Systems Research (C3SR) is optimized distributed architectures that can improve and scale the performance of cognitive systems tenfold (and beyond for some advanced cognitive workloads). “I am very excited about the opportunity to combine the world-class heterogeneous computing architecture, parallel algorithm, natural language processing, and image recognition expertise at Illinois with the cutting edge cognitive application and computing systems technologies at IBM to embark on this exciting project that can potentially revolutionize computing and dramatically enrich our lives,” says Wen-Mei Hwu, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois.
  • The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is working with IBM to develop applications of accelerated cognitive computing for cybersecurity via analytics and machine learning to help cybersecurity professionals gain an advantage in the battle against cybercrime. Anupam Joshi, director and chair of computer science and electrical engineering at UMBC says, “The faculty and students at UMBC are excited to continue working with IBM to push the frontiers in cognitive computing. Building on prior work at UMBC and IBM, we will advance the state of the art in accelerated cognitive computing, and apply it to solve key national challenges in the cyber-security arena.”
  • The University of Michigan is working with IBM to develop a new class of conversational technologies that will allow people to interact more naturally and effectively with computers through text or speech dialogues – breaking barriers that currently limit many well-known conversational systems to rote question-and-answer interactions. The research will focus on new dialog capabilities such as natural language understanding, knowledge representation and emotion analysis, leading to cognitive systems that can learn and codify human expertise, deal with ambiguity, understand a user’s intent and context, and know how to respond. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with IBM to make human computer interaction more natural and conversational,” said Satinder Singh Baveja, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Michigan. “Building dialog systems is a great AI challenge, and together we are already making progress on many facets of dialog research, while simultaneously collecting new data to aid not only our teams, but the wider research community.”
  • The University of Montreal, Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) is working with IBM on a number of next-generation deep learning algorithms and techniques to help computers improve their understanding and interpretation of language, speech, and vision. The research will enable machines to learn from experience rather than extensive manual training by humans, and lead to machines that learn more, across broader domains, faster and from a larger set of data sources, including the vast amounts of unstructured data. The partnership is designed to extend deep learning capabilities from merely classifying information to more advanced contextual analysis through the application of techniques related to attention and memory. Yoshua Bengio, Professor of the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research at University of Montreal says, “We have a very ambitious research agenda, including deep learning for language, speech and vision. We believe that, together, we’ll be able to scale up and extend deep learning methods by using powerful computers to take on very large datasets. It will help machines learn more, across broader domains, faster and from a larger set of data sources, including the vast amounts of un-labeled data – that have not been curated by humans. The implications for both Research and Commercial systems – such as the services being offered in the Watson Developer Cloud are legion.”

Ethics & AI

Each of these partnerships will greatly accelerate our goal of applying cognitive computing to solving some of the world’s most enduring challenges. And when it comes to reaping the societal benefits of this technology, speed is of the essence.

That is not to say we are pursuing these goals without careful ethical consideration of their development and deployment. At IBM, we recognize that benefiting from cognitive computing and artificial intelligence requires trust. To that end, we are in the process of building a system of best practices that can help guide the safe and ethical management of AI systems, including alignment with social norms and values; algorithmic responsibility; compliance with existing legislation and policy; assurance of the integrity of the data, algorithms, and systems; and protection of privacy and personal information.

This, too, is being done in partnership with leading thinkers, researchers, and academics. To read more about our comprehensive efforts to develop ethical guidelines for the application of artificial intelligence, click here.

The ability of AI systems to transform vast amounts of complex, ambiguous information into insight has the potential to do amazing things: discover insights to treat disease, predict the weather, or manage the global economy. It is an undeniably powerful tool, and it takes the best minds to make the breakthroughs necessary for progress.  Together with our academic partners in the Cognitive Horizons Network and the motivating business problems from our clients, IBM is committed to advancing the science in a way that maximizes the benefit to all of society, quickly and responsibly.


  1. Great to see this collaborative movements with Universities and Research institutions. Agree , to advance this new era is a collaborative efffort. How to participate ? How , as IBMErs , or just Universities or Research Centers, base on its valulable knowledge could be part of the team?

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guru Banavar, Vice President, Cognitive Computing

Guru Banavar

Chief Science Officer, Cognitive Computing and VP, IBM Research