By Michael Karasick
The world is on the cusp of a new era of computing, which we call the era of cognitive systems. New computer technologies are coming that will help people and organizations penetrate complexity and make better decisions. At IBM, we believe that this coming revolution in artificial intelligence has the potential to transform the way business is done and dramatically accelerate innovation. Cognitive systems will enable humans and machines to interact together and achieve things that neither could do on their own.
The victory of IBM’s Watson on the TV game show Jeopardy! was one of the milestones in this new phase of computing. Scientists at IBM and elsewhere are pushing the boundaries of science and technology fields ranging from neural networks to machine learning to create machines that sense, learn, reason and interact with people in new ways.
(IBM Research Director John Kelly is speaking about the future of computing today at 7 p.m. Pacific Time at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. His book about the new era, Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing , will be published in the fall by Columbia University Press. To read a free chapter now, go to the Columbia University Press web site.
We expect the coming era to emerge over the next couple of decades as one major breakthrough in science and technology follows another. Over time, these advances will fundamentally alter the relationships between people and machines. They will transform computers into truly useful assistants that magnify and accelerate our abilities and enable us to do things we never could have done before. As a result, you can expect better outcomes for individuals, the organizations and society.
–In the doctor’s office, cognitive systems will assist the physician by harnessing vast amounts of data to help them diagnose illnesses and choose among treatment options.
–In a big city, cognitive systems will help city leaders react to a crisis or prioritize infrastructure investments by using data to gain insights into complex systems.
–In the home, intelligent assistant apps on smart phones will help elderly citizens by serving as health monitors and advisers in managing chronic diseases and promoting wellness.
–In companies, cognitive systems will help engineers and designers create new products and services that respond better to the demands of consumers or even anticipate their needs.
One of the greatest impacts of cognitive systems will come in the realm of discovery. In the pharmaceutical industry, the process of new drug development takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years and costs $500 million to $1 billion per drug. Further, more than 90% of the potential drugs that are explored never make it to market. Working with major pharmaceutical companies, a team at IBM Research-Almaden is developing a system that makes it possible for companies to identify promising molecules quickly, find new uses for compounds already proven safe and spot diseases that could be treated more effectively.
The solution draws on text analytics, visual data mining and machine learning. With it, scientists will be able to search though millions of published papers, medical literature, patents and databases describing chemical properties to find the proverbial needle in the haystack that can make a huge difference for pharma companies, physicians and patients alike.
This could save years and hundreds of millions of dollars for each drug, but also could transform the discovery process in any industry where R&D speaks the language of materials science, chemistry and intellectual property law.
We believe that cognitive systems will help us make sense of our amazingly complex world and provide a new collaborative dimension to human reasoning and decision making—whether it’s for business leaders reshaping industries or regular people trying to choose careers or investment strategies. These technologies will help create new products, services, companies and entire industries.
We look to our clients, university researchers, government policy makers, industry partners and tech entrepreneurs to take this journey into the era of cognitive systems with us. And, just as importantly, we hope to inspire university and high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Together, we can produce another wave of progress in computing.