Cognitive Computing

Transparency and Trust in the Cognitive Era

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We are in the early days of a promising new technology, and of the new era to which it is giving birth. This technology is as radically different from the programmable systems that have been produced by the IT industry for half a century as those systems were from the tabulators that preceded them.

Commonly referred to as artificial intelligence, this new generation of technology and the cognitive systems it helps power will soon touch every facet of work and life – with the potential to radically transform them for the better. This is because these systems can ingest and understand all forms of data, which is being produced at an unprecedented rate. Cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson can reason over this data, forming hypotheses and judgments. Most importantly, these systems are not simply programmed, they learn – from their own experiences, their interactions with humans and the outcomes of their judgments.

As with every prior world-changing technology, this technology carries major implications. Many of the questions it raises are unanswerable today and will require time, research and open discussion to answer. But at IBM, we have learned something over 100 years of inventing and introducing transformative technologies and of guiding their responsible adoption and use. This experience has taught us that it is both pragmatic and wise to establish principles to guide what we develop and bring to the world, and how we do so.

Today we are establishing the following principles for the Cognitive Era:

Purpose: The purpose of AI and cognitive systems developed and applied by the IBM company is to augment human intelligence. Our technology, products, services and policies will be designed to enhance and extend human capability, expertise and potential. Our position is based not only on principle but also on science. Cognitive systems will not realistically attain consciousness or independent agency. Rather, they will increasingly be embedded in the processes, systems, products and services by which business and society function – all of which will and should remain within human control.

Transparency: For cognitive systems to fulfill their world-changing potential, it is vital that people have confidence in their recommendations, judgments and uses. Therefore, the IBM company will make clear:

  • When and for what purposes AI is being applied in the cognitive solutions we develop and deploy.
  • The major sources of data and expertise that inform the insights of cognitive solutions, as well as the methods used to train those systems and solutions.
  • The principle that clients own their own business models and intellectual property and that they can use AI and cognitive systems to enhance the advantages they have built, often through years of experience. We will work with our clients to protect their data and insights, and will encourage our clients, partners and industry colleagues to adopt similar practices.

Skills: The economic and societal benefits of this new era will not be realized if the human side of the equation is not supported. This is uniquely important with cognitive technology, which augments human intelligence and expertise and works collaboratively with humans. Therefore, the IBM company will work to help students, workers and citizens acquire the skills and knowledge to engage safely, securely and effectively in a relationship with cognitive systems, and to perform the new kinds of work and jobs that will emerge in a cognitive economy.

Our experience over more than a century and our daily work with clients from every industry and sector around the world have taught us that transparency and principles that engender trust are important for both business and society. However, we also recognize that there is much learning ahead for all of us. In that spirit, we hope that our publication of these tenets can spark an industry-wide – indeed, a society-wide – dialogue on the fundamental questions that must be answered, in order to achieve the economic and societal potential of a cognitive future.

Sundar Varanasi

Just sharing my thoughts as an employee..Very good to read such Guiding principles, particularly during the “beginnings” (if I can say that) of such a journey..They provide direction and great clarity to both employees and stakeholders (in this case, wide ranging). It is my humble belief that these will principles will guide and shape a future of very many in the years to come…Many Thanks for this..


Great principles. We discussed these topics with clients who are fearing of replacing human beings by AI
Now we have a clear message and principles that we can share with clients to give them the answers that they were looking for ao that they can move forward in adapoting POC or projects aroung IBM AI.
Well stated and easy to explain to clients.


When a new form of technology is introduced to the world, what follows is skepticism and uncertainty. But going by the transparency principle, second thoughts will be put to rest.

John Rinne

Will IBM promote these principles to be adopted by The Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society? Will this partnership strive to have global representation and participation?

Helena Procter

When and for what purpose – excellent questions to ask when approaching any solution.
With cognitive and the large amounts of data available to process for a potential solution, it is encouraging to see the reminders to check the purpose.

laurent briquet

These principles are a great start to inform our strategy in the cognitive (new) space. As IBM defines the cognitive solution that powers many applications across many business models and route to markets… it is essential a charter for those developing on our platforms and products can adhere to a joint charter whereby the principles we apply in the core of our offerings can live through to end solutions

Maria Tereza

AI technology is new to our customers and in order to have their trust, transparency is a key thing.
These principles are indeed very important to us IBMers and customers.

Anton Vijayakumar

Am wondering about the ethical and moral characteristics of these cognitive systems. While we can successfully transfer human intelligence and/skills into/onto these computing systems, what about values and ethics – right and wrong – about which even humans differ amongst themselves so much! Has there been some research into these aspects too?

Satheesh K Sirivoru

I would like to re-skill some of my abilities and knowledge so that I could move into AI and cognitive science in near future!
It s imperative that all management levels educate themselves on what AI and its branches like Machine learning and Deep learning can do to the transformation into neo-world, we cant be left behind when the technology is catching up.

Peter E. Kolstad

“.. to augment human intelligence”
How will IBM ensure that IBM cognitive solutions are not used for unethical, criminal, and terrorist purposes?
Transparency: “When and for what purposes AI is being applied in the cognitive solutions we develop and deploy.” How will IBM assess a client’s purpose and make that purpose transparent? I foresee major challenges in this context. Legal, ethical and business outcome related.
But, I trust that IBM’s proven ethical foundation will ensure a thorough vetting process. May I suggest using Watson:-)

Pamela De Costa

It really is awe-inspiring to be living in these times and to be part of a company like IBM, who is not only at the forefront of this next frontier, but is engaged with principle, integrity and values. It makes one proud to say “I am an IBMer”…


This will going to change the face of A.I in future .IBM is really working hard to make it possible.

Janet Carter

As always IBM is a pioneer into new frontiers and the Cognitive Era is no exception! Recently I heard NPR podcasts on the frequency of ‘911’ calls from cell phones, where the challenge is to pinpoint the geographic location. And another on the susceptibility of automobile computer systems to hacking and remotely overtaking control of various systems posing a real security risk. My immediate thought was how poised IBM is to solve global problems of this nature through the Cognitive platform.

For any substantial creation to reach new heights and beyond, there must be an equally substantial foundation grounding and rooting it’s growth. These principles truly provide IBM that essential footing to sustain a future that will be amazing!

Tatiane Veroneze

Clear message: cognitive technology works collaboratively with humans. No fear of losing control to computers. Important message to the market: we will work with you, to unleash your potential and we will make sure your insights, ideas and innovation created with the help our cognitive solutions is secure. #Transparency#Trust #NewIBM #IBMProud

pushkar raj sharma

a great point highlighted is to for humans to have trust in the systems in place for systems to succeed . would love to see the entire era growing into its own new world !! Lucky to be born in this Era


    Nice promising article, the Human factor in the first place! I have one question. Why the word cognitive era? in my point of view this is so old fashioned and not human. Descartes said: I think so I am. Are we running heads? Yes. we are, we transformed ourselves into thinking heads ! That is the old cognitive emphasis. Doing, thinking and feeling should be in balance, that is the Human factor. I FEEL, so I AM.
    I still feel a bit blue:)
    So please if you look forward IBM trust is a feeling as well. More head and thoughts might create fear? I am convinced a lot of fear is cognitive. If you want to build trust, step out of the old cognitive era.

Alan Sltsky

As with most new technologies, there are currently more questions about the future of machine learning/cognitive computing than answers. That said, I agree that transparency and trust must be the pillars on which it is built.

Thirumal Nellutla

These well laid out principles should alleviate any concerns, as IBM has always been at the forefront of making Technology real for the betterment of mankind.

Haitham Samman

very honored and pleased to see that IBM is creating the principles that will act as conscious for AI future, working collaboratively with Human and augmenting human intelligence.

Maira Roversi Brandao

As usual, new technologies generates some initial concerns. Within the Cognitive Era this will not be different and will be even more sensitive as the films and the non-specialized people see AI as Cognitive synonymous and several times put the “machines controlling the human beings”.
We are dictating the Market on this arena, which is excellent. So, having Ginni post those principles will help the overall understanding about the New Era. She touched important topics here: “augment human intelligence”, “confident”on this embedded technology and “training” to extract the best of it. Cristal clear. Thank you.

Anne Saftich

I work with the K-12 education industry in Canada and am very interested in the role IBM will play in accomplishing the following statement, especially in terms of students. “Therefore, the IBM company will work to help students, workers and citizens acquire the skills and knowledge to engage safely, securely and effectively in a relationship with cognitive systems, and to perform the new kinds of work and jobs that will emerge in a cognitive economy.”

Many of our schools and districts today are trying to deal with responsible, ethical use and digital citizenship and the impact of AI and cognitive will need to be a critical component of this.

Eric Schmidt

Many new technologies have triggered a fear of the unknown, and a large body of science fiction has exacerbated some views. I like that we are being proactive and transparent on the topic, and I like the tone of the message — clear intentions but not making statements about exactly what the future looks like. I expect this to be an evolving message as we see the technology develop, use cases mature, and impacts happen. Great start for a critical 21st century dialogue.


I wholeheartedly agree that this new technology will require much learning ahead, and IBM is wise to recognize that this is needed for the future and present generations in order for them to embrace it without fear. Bravo!


The following comment in your message is key.

“The economic and societal benefits of this new era will not be realized if the human side of the equation is not supported.”

Thank you for that insight. Both the “humanistic” perspective of people using the technology, and an appreciation for the human perspective of those people impacted by the technology will be key.


For over a century, we are at the front to change the world we are living in. YES, we are still at the front to make next 100 years to help and change the world we are living in. Cognitive is not a just a word, it is a super set of what we will have in our hand to move forward. This should be the moment, we realize that we will and can to be the pioneer again! Exciting, Exciting and Exciting!

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