For the fourth year running, the Future Today Institute, a leading forecasting and strategy firm, has named cognitive computing as a major technology trend driving what’s next in business and government. Along with deep learning, big data, drones, virtual reality, robotics, spaceflight and others, cognitive computing is a major technology-driven disrupter, of both human behavior and society itself, according to the institute’s 2016 Trend Report.
Cognitive Predicted to be Critical Tech Trend for 2017
The Future Today Institute uses its forecasting model to provide guidance to Fortune 500 companies as well as government agencies, non-profits and universities on important emerging trends, with the goal of helping them thrive in the face of rapid technological change.
Far from the latest fad or technology of the moment, trends singled out by the Institute are those that drive long-term changes within key industries, ultimately shaping how consumers behave and how businesses will evolve. They represent the intersection of human nature and technological breakthroughs.
What is Cognitive Computing?
Cognitive computing has gained prominence as a major disrupter by enabling computers to interact with people in human-like ways. These systems understand and communicate in natural language, and leverage artificial intelligence to present new insights that far surpass those gleaned by human intelligence alone.
At the forefront of this technology, and cited by the 2016 Tech Trends report as the single most important innovator to watch, is IBM Watson.
With cognitive systems like Watson, we are now able to unlock the value in data that was previously inaccessible because it existed in an unstructured format or was dispersed in any number of separate silos. Cognitive systems think more like humans, at immense scale, which redefines what is possible to discover and to do. Over time, these new technologies will serve to transform jobs, businesses, customer experiences and entire industries.
Cognitive technologies can help multiple teams at companies improve performance and ROI. From a customer service perspective, cognitive technologies help businesses personalize, humanize and automate customer experiences by finding real-time insights in both structured AND unstructured data including social media posts, emails, audio recordings, documents, manuals and more. This formerly “dark” data—which lives in internal, external, cloud-based and even publicly-available sources—has rarely been utilized by companies, even though they collect and store large volumes of unstructured content on a regular basis. With cognitive computing, companies can find valuable insights and significant opportunities hidden in this data.
In the mainstream, Watson may best be known as the system that defeated the reigning champion on the TV game show Jeopardy in 2011, deftly answering the host’s spoken questions and returning the correct answers more quickly than any human competitor.
Watson has evolved since then into a powerful, commercially-available range of services. Watson services combines search and analysis of unstructured content like emails, social media posts and audio recordings — data that was out of reach for conventional systems — with unique cognitive computing capabilities to scale human expertise.
For example, Watson Explorer helps companies connect, analyze and quickly find the information they need through a 360-degree view of all data to reveal critical insights and inform better decisions.
Watson is advancing industries from retail and telecommunications to healthcare and banking by quickly accessing large amounts of data and providing information and insights that would take human workers much longer to find and parse on their own.
Cognitive computing, however, does not operate in a vacuum. The key to its success is two other trends on the Future Today Institute’s 2016 watch list: data and deep learning.
Harnessing Data Better With Cognitive Computing
One of the reasons data made the list is because it is a key driver of many other technologies, including cognitive computing. Major industries, governments and individuals increasingly rely on data from an ever-expanding number of sources to help them do everything from fixing machines to making smarter purchases.
Stakeholders are discovering new potential for how to harness data to improve business performance across departments. They are quickly finding, however, that each new opportunity comes with at least one major challenge in storing, managing and/or interpreting all this data. For example, one Watson client, a U.S. state government, was looking for a tool to manage hundreds of thousands of online documents and relay crucial insurance requirements to its citizens quickly and easily. This state government team is currently leveraging Watson to make sense of this data cache and keep its residents informed while reducing technology and data management costs. For this and many other reasons, the Future Today Institute has named IBM Watson as a technology to watch in this field.
Cognitive Computing and Deep Learning
The 2016 Trends report points to deep learning experiments from major companies like IBM, Google and Facebook, as well as neural network projects from university labs among its technologies to watch. These programs are teaching computers to recognize faces, see in the dark, translate spoken and written language and much more.
Watson’s cognitive computing abilities utilize deep learning processes to analyze and draw insights from unstructured data in ways that only the smartest human minds could before—but at a much, much faster rate. In the automotive industry, for example, Watson is helping a automobile manufacturing company identify not only potential safety issues with specific vehicle models, but also the potential causes of those issues, very quickly, so issues can proactively be fixed before they lead to a costly recall. Watson does this by gleaning information hidden in thousands of comments by consumers who report problems to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Solving Tomorrow’s Challenges with Cognitive Computing
The trends cited by the Future Today Institute impact nearly every major industry. In this report, cognitive computing alone has applications in financial services, travel, entertainment, education, infrastructure and transportation, marketing and PR, human resources, and medical and life sciences.
While trends cited by the institute have enormous potential for improving the lives of millions, they also provide a cautionary tale, says the 2016 report. “Now more than ever, emerging technology breakthroughs are outpacing the evolution of our public policy and discussions regarding ethics,” writes 2016 Trend Report author and Future Today Institute CEO and founder Amy Webb. “We must continue to think ahead about how our actions (or lack of actions) today will impact the future of our societies, business and global communities.”
Cognitive computing, with its ability to help businesses and policymakers gain insights from formerly hidden information, can and must be part of the solution.
IBM Watson Explorer enables people to both find and understand the information they need to make the best possible decisions. View our infographic to learn more about how to enable a cognitive, data-driven business with Watson.