A New Era of Cognitive Technology

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Obtaining a competitive advantage in the tech industry is an ongoing battle amongst the top companies in the industry. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Alibaba, Oracle, Intel and IBM collectively command a market cap of over $2 trillion and are high-stakes contenders in a race to dominate their field. Many are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) to take the lead.

Artificial intelligence has been around for over 60 years, but it wasn’t until recently that AI in combination with increased availability to big data and exponential growth in processing power, has become a system to be reckoned with in the business world.

If you’ve ever used Google Translate or Facebook Newsfeed, you’ve been exposed to AI without even realizing it. Also referred to as advanced cognitive computing, AI models such as IBM’s Watson “can understand, reason, and learn from data in real-time, providing practical solutions” (IBM). Such models attempt to replicate functions of the human brain using complex algorithms that transform the decision making process into a mechanical one. AI can be applied to tasks ranging from fraud detection to speech recognition and self-driving vehicles. With its multitude of capabilities, it is no surprise that the market for enterprise AI systems is speculated to increase from $202.5 million in 2015 to $11.1 billion by 2024 according to Tractica analysts.

Early Adopters 

As artificial intelligence systems are becoming increasingly attractive and practical, investors are buying in at a rapid pace. Apple acquired Perceptio and VocalIQ, both of which have AI proficiency in image and speech recognition. In 2014, Google spent more than $500 million in the AI startup DeepMind and more recently invested in an artificial intelligence lab in Germany to further R & D efforts. Even social networks like Twitter and Facebook have jumped on board, purchasing Whetlab to help with algorithm development and sponsoring efforts to build drones and laser networks.

IBM is definitely one to watch in the next few years as they are establishing a presence as the tech leader in AI. They have invested one billion dollars in cognitive technology, mainly in the healthcare, financial, and energy sectors. Additionally, they hold the largest number of artificial intelligence patents, with more than 500 to date. IBM’s baby, Watson, continues to generate headlines for breaking new ground in AI and adding value to every company that embraces it.

IBM’s Watson

Back in 2007, Watson—named after IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson—was the brainchild of IBM computer engineers looking to challenge convention and develop a machine that could answer any question posed to it. After its completion, Watson competed head to head with humans on the quiz show Jeopardy! and won the million dollar prize. IBM’s trial run in 2011 marked the beginning of many successes for their artificial intelligence platform.

Watson specializes in natural language processing and machine learning to extract insights and formulate patterns from unstructured data—which IBM believes constitutes 80 percent of all the world’s data. After scanning millions of documents, Watson uses a scoring algorithm to rate the quality of supporting evidence and offer a range of probable solutions. IBM executive Manoj Saxena explains, “It’s like being able to take a knowledge worker—cancer specialist, nurse, bond trader, portfolio manager, whatever—and equip that person with the best knowledge, and have it available at their fingertips.”

Watson Engagement Advisor provides technology to get questions answered and Watson Explorer provides analytics and cognitive insights from unstructured data. Watson Discovery Advisor draws relationships between data sets and Watson for Oncology analyzes a patient’s medical background to provide treatment options. Furthermore, the Watson Developer Cloud allows developers access to unlimited Watson application program interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) to integrate Watson’s powers with their own software and apps.

Where’s Watson

IBM’s Watson is doing wonders for the medical field. Watson helped the Baylor College of Medicine quickly identify treatments for a protein linked to cancers, finding seven proteins in a few weeks, a task that would have taken the medical community years. Partnering with the New York Genome Center, IMB is also employing Watson to assist clinical trials to find treatments for glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.

Watson has infiltrated the private sector as well. Overseas, Watson’s artificial intelligence capabilities have been widely accepted in Australia where ANZ Global Wealth, Woodside, Deakin University, and the Australian Customs and Border Protection are reaping its rewards. IMB also capitalizes from its startup program. More than 350 startups and commercial companies are building software with Watson’s APIs.

Most promising though is IBM’s commitment to continue to improve and invest in Watson. Recently, they acquired Weather.com, expanding Watson’s arsenal to link global business and sensor data with weather. The Weather Company’s cloud data platform is the fourth most-used app daily in the US, handling 26 billion inquiries every 24 hours. Watson and Weather.com together can undoubtedly push the boundaries of big data. IBM’s chief of research John Kelly attests, “The first thing that hit us about Watson was that this thing could be applied almost anywhere.”

Artificial Intelligence is here to stay; there is no question about that. Critics may denounce the inability of any computer to enter the realm of reasoning, but IBM’s Watson begs to differ. Watson is a genius in analyzing unstructured data and offering sound solutions to almost any problem with a high degree of confidence. It is helping the medical community sift through millions of journals and records in seconds, banks provide better financial advice, and start-ups gain a competitive advantage through access to an extensive library of APIs. If IBM executives are correct in believing that Watson represents the first machine of the “third computer age”, it is only a matter of time before we can’t live without artificial intelligence.

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I am a junior volleyball player studying marketing, public relations, and digital imaging at the University of Akron, OH. I want to travel the world and write about it, but Minnesota will always be my home.

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