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SP Cog Coll 2014The world is in the early stages of a major shift—from the programmable computing era to the era of cognitive systems. Today at IBM Research, we’re convening our second-annual Cognitive Systems Colloquium. We’ll be hearing from some of the smartest people in the tech industry. Please return throughout the day for frequent updates. And join the discussion at #CognitiveComputing.

10:20 (updated)  Jeff Hawkins, CEO, Numenta: What the Brain Can Tell Us About the Future of Computing.

I use the term machine intelligence to describe what we’re working on.

I’ll start with an analogy. Back in the 1940s, people were building dedicated machines for certain problems, and others said we should build more general computing machines.

In the 1950s, these things settled out. We settled on universal computers, which are flexible but aren’t necessarily the best for every use. They were scalable. It led to the computer revolution we have seen.

Now we’re in another period of messiness. We’re trying to settle on a paradigm.

I believe we’ll settle on systems that are based on the brain’s neocortex. These are learning systems. They’re the most flexible solutions. They can scale. We know this because our own brain is this way.

Numenta has two goals. 1) Discover the operating principles of the neocortex. 2) Create technologies based on those principles. We’re not trying to build a brain or anything like a human.

The cortex knows nothing when you’re born. It has to learn. It learns by studying patterns that come from the senses. It builds a model of the world based on this evidence. It understands, and then it generates behavior—like how I’m speaking now.

It’s a sensory-motor model of the world.

The neocortex is a sheet of cells, in a human about the size of a dinner napkin. (He unfolds a paper napkin) This is us.

The regions of the cortex are organized as a hierarchy. Four layers of cells. The neurons are organized in mini columns.

Most of the learning occurs through the formation of new synapses.

This is the system we want to understand. Can we understand in detail how the neurons and synapses work?

Our theory is hierarchical temporal memory.  It’s how we recognize patterns.

We think each layer in the cortex implements a different type of temporal memory. They include attention, motor and motor inference and high-order inference.

We’re working on all the layers, and making progress. Once we figure this out we can go and build brains.

We’ve created some products based on what we have learned so far. One is Grok, which is based on HTM. It’s an application for spotting problems in servers in data centers. We spot and predict anomalies.

We can also spot anomalies in financial trading.

We’re not trying to add social media data to it. We can combine the streams of data and the analysis and cross-reference them, to discover relationships, causes and effects.

A bunch of companies are developing tools based on our theories and technologies. One is They do natural language processing. We’re getting  close to how language is really processed in the brain.
You can run all of these applications on the core HTM code, the algorithm. You just change the data you apply the system to. You don’t have to change the algorithm.

We’re working on image classification the way the brain does it.

We’re working on goal-oriented behavior—robotics and smart bots. You’re moving through the data and focusing on the end game.

All of our algorithms are documented. We believe in research transparency. We even post our daily research code, so you can look at all the messy stuff we do.

We collaborate with IBM, with DARPA, with little companies. Anything that works, we’re open for it. We just want to make this happen.

I’ll end with a story. 21 years ago I gave a talk at Intel. It was their management meeting. I talked about the future of personal computing—it would all be about mobile devices. I suggested that Intel could capitalize on it.

Afterwards, I sat with Gordon Moore and other senior execs. They didn’t believe a word I said. The conversation got awkward. They asked what the applications would be. I knew simple things, like calendar and address book, but I didn’t know what all the apps would be. Three years after that we introduced the Palm Pilot, and three years later the Treo, the first smart phone.

Today, we’re at the same turning point. We’re switching to another paradigm. It’s about machines that learn. They’re based on the principles of the neocortex.

People ask me what the  big applications will be. I don’t know yet. It’s like the calendar and the address book. We can’t fully imagine yet what will come.

But I’m sure of this: Twenty years from now machine intelligence will be driving this industry in so many ways.


Q: Airplanes don’t look or act like birds. They don’t have flapping wings. Why do you think computers will operate like brains.

Jeff: The Wright brothers studied the principles of flight. The same thing applies here. We’re looking at the principles of how the brain works.

If we want to build a cognitive system the only example we have is the brain. Why would we look anywhere else.

And when you look a the brain you find principles, common architectures that spread across different modalities.

At some point we can throw away the brain. We’ll know enough. We’ll just do our own thing. Until then, let’s learn from the brain.

Continue Reading »

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Repsol Sovex Rig (Santos-Basin Bra

Repsol Sovex Rig (Santos Basin-Brazil).

By Steve Hamm

One of the great hopes for cognitive computing is that it will provide organizations with powerful new insights that enable them to penetrate complexity and rethink the way they do business—potentially transforming whole industries.

The oil and gas industry is ripe for transformation.

That’s because the uncertainties and geological risks are so great in resource exploration and the pressures are so great to maximize the productivity of existing oil and gas fields—whether they’re on dry land or thousands of feet under the sea.

Repsol S.A., a global energy company with its headquarters in Madrid, Spain, has teamed with IBM in a three-year collaboration to bring cognitive computing to bear on these so-called “upstream” aspects of its business, where energy companies face so much complexity and where decision making is so crucial to their success.

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October, 29th 2014

Alistair Rennie, GM IBM Business Analytics

Alistair Rennie, GM IBM Business Analytics

By Alistair Rennie

Each day, Twitter users press the button on about 500 million Tweets. That tsunami of 140-character messages spans the range of human interests and activities—from raves about recent purchases to exhortations to rally behind social causes.

Personally, I use Twitter as a sort of market-intelligence radar. I follow very smart people to see what they’re reading and thinking.

SP ibm twitter 1Now, for the first time, business leaders will be able to tap into the Twitter stream in powerful new ways to harvest insights that help them understand customer sentiment more deeply, develop hit products and services, and anticipate sudden shifts in moods and markets.

That’s because IBM and Twitter are combining forces to incorporate Twitter’s rich data streams into IBM’s cloud-based analytics, customer engagement platforms and consulting services.

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Steve Hamm in

SP Cog Coll 2014It has been one year since IBM Research kickstarted innovation in cognitive computing with an inaugural Cognitive Systems Colloquium. Since then, Research has staged colloquia at labs around the world and it has undergone the most significant reorganization in two decades–dedicating one third of its scientific staff to cognitive computing.

Tomorrow comes the second-annual colloquium at Research headquarters in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. A select group of scientists from industry and academia will gather to exchange ideas and view presentations from thought leaders in the field. The speakers include IBM Research Director John Kelly, serial entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins of Numenta, robotics pioneer Manuela Veloso of Carnegie Mellon, Internet trailblazer Bob Kahn, and computer interaction expert John Underkoffler of Oblong. Also presenting will be two early adopters of cognitive technologies, Santiago Quesada of the global energy company Repsol and Bob Darnell of the New York Genome Center.

So return here tomorrow to see what’s being said. Live blogging starts at about 9:15 and continues until 5.

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Uyi Stewart, Chief Scientist, IBM Research-Africa

Osamuyimen T. Stewart, Ph.D., Distinguished Engineer, Chief Scientist, IBM Research-Africa

By Osamuyimen T. Stewart, Ph.D.

The World Health Organization estimates that almost 10,000 cases of the Ebola virus disease have been reported since the latest outbreak was first reported in March 2014, resulting in more than 4,800 deaths. According to the WHO, widespread and intense transmission is occurring in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while localized transmissions have occurred in other countries, such as the U.S.

Of the many daunting challenges facing local governments and aid organizations as they try to contain and manage the virus is the collection and analysis of information — current and insightful data about the situation on the ground, such as the needs of affected people, the supplies and services they require and the need for education to address socio-cultural obstacles.

If we can map all the data, we can figure out what needs to be done and who we need to partner with to get it done. Continue Reading »

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October, 27th 2014

BigDatavsEbolaBy Steve Hamm, IBM Writer

On Aug. 5, a group of open data mavens and government officials from Africa gathered in Washington, D.C., to launch an initiative called Africa Open Data. The goal was to help African countries tap open data as a means of addressing health, infrastructure and economic challenges. In a shocking turn of events, members of the Sierra Leone delegation simultaneously received text messages alerting them that their flight back home had been canceled due to the rapid spread of Ebola. Suddenly, they were citizens cut off from their country.

“They had looks on their faces of total panic, fear and trauma,” recounts Steven Adler, IBM’s open data evangelist and an organizer of the the event. On the spot, Steve and other participants started brainstorming ways they–and data–could help . They banged around ideas and began emailing and texting friends and associates they thought could lend a hand. Continue Reading »

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Stephanie Trunzo, Chief Creative Officer, PointSource

Stephanie Trunzo, Chief Creative Officer, PointSource

By Stephanie Trunzo

Mobile is predicted to account for more than 20% of online sales this upcoming holiday season and more than 80% of consumers are expected to perform mobile pre-shopping activities like browsing, finding locations, and adding items to their wish-lists.

The news follows the growing trend of mobile shopping. For example, more than half of all smartphone users use their devices to search for product and store information – and not only for the stores they’re in at the moment. The most common smartphone searches include comparing prices and looking for product information on different retailers’ websites.   Continue Reading »

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October, 23rd 2014

SP Garage 1 2014By Steve Robinson 

Today marks the official opening of our first ever Bluemix Garage, a place where developers, product managers and designers from the smallest startups to the largest companies can congregate, network and collaborate to build the cloud applications that will change how we live, work and interact with technology.

For the past few months, we’ve been working on pulling in our best resources, consultants and technologies to build out our Bluemix Garage, which is located in Galvanize, a launch pad for San Francisco’s thriving startup community. Continue Reading »

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October, 22nd 2014

Jia Chen, PhD, Director Health Solutions, IBM Smarter Cities

Jia Chen, PhD, Director Health Solutions, IBM Smarter Cities

By Jia Chen, PhD

In the most popular eldercare home located in the heart of downtown Beijing, there are more than 10,000 applicants waiting for one of its 1,100 beds. The waiting list is currently 100 years long as only a few beds open up each year.

By the end of 2013, there were more than 200 million people over the age of 60 in China, accounting for 20% of the elderly population worldwide, making it the country with the most senior citizens in the world.

China is also the country with the fastest growing aging population. It’s projected that the elderly population will grow by 10 million per year in China and reach over 400 million in the next 20 years. It took the United   States 79 years to double its elderly population from 7% to 14% of the total population. It will take China only 27 years to achieve the same growth. Continue Reading »

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Cynthia Burghard, a Research Director with IDC’s Health Insights

Cynthia Burghard, a Research Director with IDC’s Health Insights

The world of healthcare is revolving and evolving ever faster as new technologies and approaches to care take shape. Watching the transformation from the front row is Cynthia Burghard, a Research Director with IDC’s Health Insights. The Smarter Planet sat down with Burghard this week at the IBM Health and Social Programs Summit to learn more about holistic care as well as the rising role of such technologies as cloud, analytics and mobile.

Smarter Planet: Why are we finally beginning to take a holistic view of each individual in the context of their environment?
Cynthia Burghard: Many studies have identified a wide range of factors that are not clinical as determinants of health. It used to be thought that lifestyle and genetics were the key determinants of health but it has been shown that factors such as socio economics, behavioral, spiritual and environmental factors all contribute to health and disease.

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