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Science Slam at IBM Think 2018 Conference
This week, IBM clients, Business Partners and executives get together for the new IBM [Think 2018] conference. This is a combination of last year's three events: Edge, InterConnect, and World of Watson (WoW).
(The theme this week is "Putting smart to work." Some might feel that this is a grammatically-incorrect use of the adjective [smart], referring to having quick-witted intelligence or being neat and well-dressed. Many words in the English language have multiple meanings and uses. The word smart is also a noun, referring to either business acumen, technical skills, or "a sharp stinging pain")
The keynote session today was "Science Slam: Unveiling 5 Breakthrough Technologies That Will Change the World!" by Arvind Krishna, IBM Research Director. IBM has over 3,000 researchers, in 12 labs, across six continents.
This talk was based on IBM's annual five-in-five, five predictions that might change the world in the next five years. For amusement, read my 10-year-old blog post [Five in five for 2008], including predictions for smart thermostats that can be controlled remotely, and self-driving cars.
("Science Slam" is IBM Research version of [Pecha Kucha], but instead of art students having 20 minutes to show 20 PowerPoint slides, each IBM research scientist has 5-7 minutes to explain the research project they are exploring. These are done both internally, as well as to audiences outside the company.)
Jamie Garcia served as emcee, introducing each of the five experts. Each spent 5-7 minutes, Science Slam style, on what projects they were working on.
1. Crypto-anchors and blockchain technology
‘Everything you don’t understand about money
combined with everything you don’t understand
about computers’ [25-minute video]
Andreas Kind presented first. Blockchain is not just a provenance system that enables Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it can be used for other goods.
(The best layman explanation of blockchain and cryptocurrencies I saw was John Oliver's humorous take on his HBO show [Last Week Tonight]!)
Counterfeit goods, from cinnamon to footwear, to medicine and automotive parts, is estimated over $1.8 trillion US dollars. IBM is working on how to use blockchain for other things, such as to restore trust into global supply chain. IBM hopes to reduce the number of counterfeit goods in half or more.
Andreas explained tamper-proof technologies called "crypto-anchors" -- from indelible ink on pharmaceuticals to computers smaller than a grain of salt -- that can be used to track products as they travel from one country to the next.
2. Lattice Cryptography and Fully Homomorphic Encryption
Cecilia Boschini from IBM Zurich presented next. As quantum computers get more powerful, the basic math involving prime numbers that most current encryption models are based on become vulnerable.
(Don't worry, she assured the audience, hackers would need a 1000-Qubit quantum computer to break today's encryption codes, which don't exist yet!)
What we need are post-quantum or quantum-resistant mathematical models. Lattice Cryptography aims to use more difficult math equations to make it more difficult for hackers to break the code, even when armed with quantum computers.
Another challenge with existing encrypted data is that we must decrypt the data to perform computations on it. Fully Homomorphic Encryption, or [FHE] for short, allows computations to be done in its encrypted state. For example, if I had a list of names with credit card or social security numbers encrypted, I could sort this list alphabetically without decrypting any of the data.
3. AI-enabled robotic microscopes to monitor ocean water
Tom Zimmerman is known as IBM Almaden's [McGyver], able to use common technologies in new and innovative ways.
By 2025, over half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed locations. IBM is working on robotic microscopes that can be deployed across the oceans, connected to the Cloud, monitoring the state of plankton.
Why plankton? Plankton produces two-thirds of all oxygen we breathe, and serves as the "baby food" for all oceanic species. Tom has re-programmed "face recognition" in smartphone cameras to recognize plankton, identifying what they are doing and eating.
Monitoring plankton provides an "early warning system", the proverbial [canaries in the coal mine] for impending water problems.
4. Eliminating Bias from Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Information overload! Overwhelmed by too much, our brains sort it out by either looking only for differences, or focusing on what we are already familiar with that confirm our beliefs.
Not enough meaning. Lacking complete information, our brains fill the gaps and connect the dots to find patterns that aren't patterns at all. Racism, prejudice, and stereotypes are examples of this.
The need to act fast! Survival in some cases demands acting fast, to avoid being eaten by an animal, for example. Unfortunately, our brains favor the quick and simple, over the more important but often delayed, distant or complicated response.
What should we remember? We decide what to remember, and what to forget. Our brains often favor generalities over specifics, as they take up less space. The details we remember when we experience it, or often edited or reinforced after the fact.
IBM is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] to reduce bias in Artificial Intelligence by rating different AI models on fairness.
The AI models that will win in the future are those where the biases are tamed or eliminated altogether.
5. Quantum Computing
Talia Gershon was the last speaker.
Many problems become exponentially more difficult to solve with classical computers. For example, simulating protein molecular bonding gets more difficult the larger the molecules are, because you have more electron interactions.
Quantum Computers run at a temperature of 15 millikelvin (mK), which is 460 degrees below zero. The computation unit is called a [Qubit], and a 5-Qubit quantum computer can solve problems that your laptop can solve classically. IBM now has "IBM Q" with 50-Qubit computers available.
The IT industry is still in the early stages, but IBM Quantum Information Software development kit (QISkit) allows programmers to experiment and develop algorithms for this new computational model.
Over the next five years, IBM predicts that Quantum Computing will transition from the lab, to the mainstream, to solve problems that were previously too difficult or time-consuming to solve.