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Imagine this: Your computer, the one you carry around in your pocket or purse, knows everything about you. With your permission, it knows about your relationships with the people, places and things in your world. It talks and listens to you. And, as your computer interacts with you and with the vast store of data about you, it learns to be an even better assistant—helping you navigate your personal and professional lives.

Up until now, only a select few of the world’s leading businesses and government agencies have had the ability to marshal vast financial and computing resources to solve almost any highly complex problem. But in the coming years, this type of power will become available to individuals, as well– through the assistance of computers that learn and help us make the most important decisions affecting our lives.

This vision is not science fiction. Because of today’s advances in computing, we’ll hold learning machines in our hands in the foreseeable future. And because of the nature of these machines, they’ll keep getting better at what they do. They’ll learn not just about us as individuals but about the collective us. Over time, they’ll get better at serving the needs of society as a whole.

To get a sense of how learning machines will affect you, consider IBM Research’s 5 in 5 predictions for this year—five innovations that will change the way we live within the next five years:

  • The classroom will learn youThe classroom of the future will learn about each student over the course of their education, helping students master the skills critical to meeting their goals.
  • Buying local will beat online Savvy retailers will tap cognitive technologies and use the immediacy of the physical store to create experiences that cannot be replicated by online-only retail.
  • Doctors will routinely use your DNA to keep you wellComputers will help doctors understand how specific mutations in a patient’s DNA have lead to growth of a cancerous tumor. They’ll recommend a cocktail of medicine shown to best attack that cancer.
  • The city will help you live in it Cognitive systems will learn to understand what people need, what they like, what they do, and how they move from place to place—so the managers of the city can respond better to their needs.
  • A digital guardian will protect you online Security systems will acquire a 360-degree view of an individual’s data, devices and applications. They’ll readily spot patterns that could be precursors to a cyber attack or a stolen identity.

Underlying this new era of computing—which we call the era of cognitive systems–are a handful of essential technologies. They include learning systems and big data analytics. Here are primers by two IBM Research scientists explaining the technology concepts and urging today’s students to help invent the new era.


To learn more about the new era of computing, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.

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