Big Data

The Rise of Cognitive Business

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When the original Watson won on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! in 2011, it was one computer tucked away in a room at IBM Research. Now it’s in our cloud, available anywhere. Back then, Watson consisted of a single software application powered by five core technologies. Today, it includes 28 cognitive services. Each represents a different mode of thinking–visual recognition, personality insights, relationship extraction and tradeoff analytics, to name a few. And more are on the way.

That’s a lot of technological progress in five years, underpinned by IBM’s deep technology capabilities in areas like data analytics, open standards, cloud services and security, and our deep knowledge of industries and professions. But just as important is the progress that we and our partners are making in applying cognitive technologies to real-world problems and opportunities.

Because of that progress, IBM is embarking today on a company-wide initiative aimed at accelerating the delivery of cognitive computing to businesses, government, and society. It’s similar to our launch of System/360 in 1964–a move that revolutionized computing and, over time, transformed the way business was done.

We believe that the world has entered a new era in the history of computing, which we call the cognitive era. IBM is committed to advancing cognitive technologies and a new way of solving problems to help transform companies, industries and professions, and to improve the day-to-day lives of individuals everywhere.

Over time, it will be possible to build cognitive technologies into many of the IT solutions and human-designed systems on earth, imbuing them with a kind of “thinking” ability. These new capabilities will enable people and organizations to accomplish things they couldn’t before–understanding more deeply how the world works, predicting the consequences of actions, and making better decisions.

Already, researchers and physicians are deploying Watson to help advance health. Working with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, we have created an application that physicians anywhere in the world can use to identify specific treatment options best suited to address individual patients’ unique heath needs. Medical students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine are using Watson to develop the critical thinking skills they need to solve problems with data. Through our ecosystem of business partners, Watson helps to power Welltok’s personalized health optimization platform, GenieMD’s mobile app that coordinates health information across devices and caregivers, and Best Doctors’ new app which offers personalized and realtime answers to heath questions.

You may ask, what exactly is cognitive computing? Broadly speaking, cognitive systems are designed to ingest vast quantities of different kinds of data, reason over the information, learn from their interactions with data and people, and interact with humans in ways that are more natural to us.

Though cognitive computing includes some elements of the academic discipline of artificial intelligence, it’s a broader idea. Rather than producing machines that think for people, cognitive computing is all about augmenting human intelligence–helping us think better.

From a historical perspective, cognitive is the third era of computing. The first, tabulating, began in the late 19th century and enabled such advances as the ability to conduct a detailed national census and the United States’ Social Security System. The next era, programmable computing, emerged in the 1940s and enabled everything from space exploration to the Internet. Cognitive systems are fundamentally different. Because they learn from their interactions with data and people, they’re continuously improving themselves. So cognitive systems never get old. They only get smarter and more valuable with time. This is the most significant paradigm shift in the history of computing.

IBM lives at the intersection of technology and business, and our goal is to help our clients become what we call cognitive enterprises. They are different in a number of important ways, including:.

They elevate their expertise. Every industry and profession’s knowledge is expanding at a faster rate than any professional can keep up with. Cognitive systems can give people access to the best and most up-to-date information and insights so they can do their jobs better. In addition, cognitive systems can capture the knowledge and expertise of the top people in each profession and offer it up to everyone else–essentially democratizing wisdom.

They practice deeper human engagement. Cognitive technologies can help businesses create more personal connections and interactions with their customers. They take advantage of new sources of information about people, including social networking, to create pinpoint-accurate profiles of them, their needs and their attitudes–all to find out what really matters to them. The systems also learn how people want to interact with brands, so companies can deal with individual clients in ways that please them.

They have enhanced capacity for discovery. Every business needs to innovate and to understand what’s likely to change in the months and years ahead. So, in a sense, they have to be able to see in the dark. Traditional computers miss out on 80% of the information in the world. Cognitive technologies enable organizations to spot hidden patterns in data, identify surprising new business opportunities and accelerate discovery of everything from new drugs to new ways to fly to the moon.

Five years ago, when we rolled Watson out of the lab and into the world, our goal was to take on some of humanity’s most confounding problems. The first target was helping clinicians fight cancer. While progress has been made, the battle continues. Meanwhile, humans face a host of other challenges.

This touches every part of IBM, and every IBMer will be dedicated to it – from embedding intelligence in our products and services and collaborating with thousands of clients and partners, to making IBM itself the premier example of a cognitive enterprise.

But IBM can’t attempt to take on these huge challenges alone–neither the invention of new cognitive technologies nor their application to problems, professions and industries. So this is our request: Come interact with Watson. Join the Watson Ecosystem. Bring your data, your expertise and your aspirations to the effort to fulfill the potential of cognitive computing.


If you want to learn more about the new era, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.

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