Adapting to a new technology and a new way of thinking
Cognitive technology differs from traditional IT in how it’s set up and maintained as well as how users interact with it. As intelligence agencies implement cognitive solutions, they quickly realize the implications
of these differences for their personnel, workflow and culture.
While setting up a cognitive system might involve some programming by IT professionals, the system then “learns” to reason and find patterns in a body of knowledge based on “training” rather than traditional coding.
Training isn’t teaching the system everything – it is teaching it enough so it can predict what it doesn’t know.
– Scott Spangler, Principal Data Scientist & Distinguished Engineer, IBM Watson
Typically, IT professionals don’t have the knowledge of intelligence and workflows to conduct training, so it’s the analysts and intelligence experts who are best-suited for the job. As Juliana Gallina, IBM Cognitive
Solutions Director for National Security and Justice, explained, “You need subject matter experts that can understand the agency’s data landscape and the types of collections that are important to them for given
mission scenarios. This proves to be a somewhat rare skill—it’s kind of like being a data scientist, but also the person who can understand why certain content may be relevant for a particular mission.”
Trainers must feed the system not only typical question-and-answer pairs that are representative of the types of queries analysts would make, but also knowledge of intelligence “language.” For example, one intelligence
agency had to teach its system slang words for cocaine, such as flour and talc.
But training isn’t merely an exercise in feeding street lingo and synonyms into the system. A cognitive system needs to understand relationships between words and concepts to help it unearth new, similar relationships.
For example, after an intelligence agency set up the relationships between cocaine and other concepts, it ran a search. The system surfaced documents containing the word “acetone,” a cocaine purifying agent,
in which drugs or cocaine were not specifically mentioned. From the relationships it was taught, the cognitive system understood that it should look for not only the drug, but also compounds used in its production.
Once the system is trained, it’s time to train the analysts. Teams that have implemented cognitive investigation tools say teaching intelligence analysts to use them is typically a fairly simple exercise, requiring
a few days to a few weeks, even in instances where analysts previously did their job manually.
There has been, however, one somewhat unexpected area where training efforts have had to concentrate—getting analysts to “ask” the system questions rather than revert to old keyword search habits. “You have a generation
that’s been schooled on keyword searches. It’s very difficult for them to transition to asking questions. Our challenge has been to say, ‘Stop trying to format your query. Just ask it. Pretend the guy next to
you knows something that you don’t know. How would you ask him?’ We’ve had a hard time teaching people to do that,” said William Dubyak, an IBM machine learning specialist.
Cognitive systems often transform more than an intelligence agency’s tools—they can bring about changes in processes and culture. For example, in one agency, the data siloes that existed before bringing in a cognitive
system led personnel to develop “siloed skills.” This constrained flow of information caused workers to specialize in just one domain. With the new cognitive solution providing access to a wide swath of data
and improved collaboration tools, the organization encouraged a more cooperative team environment, fundamentally changing how it managed cases and shared information.
But perhaps most significantly, cognitive technology affects the way users think. Analysts not only have more time to think because the technology helps them collect intelligence, but the technology also
makes them think differently about how they do research and intelligence discovery. As IBM Senior Managing Consultant Kylie Cameron explained, “It is a new way of thinking about things that people haven’t
quite grasped, and it is really hard to talk people through it without them living it.”