By Zachary Lemnios
Over the course of the 70+-year history of computing, government, academia and industry have joined forces repeatedly to bring cutting-edge science to bear on the some of the major challenges of the day—and, in each case, computer science has played an important role. Among those remarkable efforts were the Manhattan Project, the Space Race, and the Human Genome Project.
Today, we’re at a turning point in the evolution of information technology. A new age is dawning: the era of cognitive computing. At IBM, we believe it will be as distinct from today’s era of programmable computing as this period was from the earlier tabulating era.
IBM’s Watson, which defeated two former grand-champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, was a first step forward on a long journey. Over the coming years and decades, computers will learn, reason and partner with human beings to help them harvest the benefits of Big Data and better understand how the world works so people can make superior decisions and live more successful lives.
Yet, there’s no assurance that breakthroughs in cognitive computing will progress as quickly as their advocates would like. That’s why IBM is reaching out to partners in academia, industry and across our clients in an effort to set a shared agenda aimed at hastening and guiding progress.
Return to A Smarter Planet on Oct. 2 starting at 8:30 a.m. for live blogging from IBM Research’s Cognitive Computing Colloquium, featuring speeches by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, MIT professor Thomas Malone, A.I. visionary Danny Hillis and more.
To learn more about the new era, download a free chapter of the new book, Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era Cognitive Computing, by IBM Research Director John E. Kelly III, at http://cup.columbia.edu/static/cognitive.
Tomorrow marks a first step in the process of setting an agenda. We have invited scholars from a number of leading universities to a Cognitive Systems Colloquium at IBM Research headquarters in Yorktown Heights, New York, to begin a conversation about the new era of computing. (Additional colloquia will follow at other IBM Research labs around the world.) As a signal of our commitment to this cause, we’re creating a collaborative research initiative with four universities in order to advance the study of cognitive technologies. The universities include Carnegie Mellon, MIT, New York University and Rensselaer Polytechnic.
The initial research efforts will support the following investigations:
–MIT: How socio-technical tools can boost the collective performance of moderate-sized groups of humans engaged in collaborative tasks such as decision making.
–RPI: How advances in processing power, data availability, and algorithmic techniques can enable the practical application of a variety of artificial intelligence techniques.
–CMU: How systems should be architected to support intelligent, natural interaction with all kinds of information to help people execute complex tasks.
–NYU: How deep learning is impacting many areas of science where automated pattern recognition is essential.
But that’s just a start. Cognitive systems will require innovation breakthroughs at every layer of information technology, starting with nanotechnology and progressing through computing systems design, information management, programming and machine learning, and, finally, the interfaces between machines and humans. Advances on this scale will require remarkable efforts and collaboration, calling forth the best minds—and the combined resources–of academia, government and industry.
In the coming months, we plan on working with additional universities, researchers, IBM clients and government agencies to map out a common research agenda, set priorities and identify areas where substantial progress needs to be made. Businesses can play an important role by helping to identify situations where cognitive systems could provide substantial benefits—and by providing real-world test beds were researchers can evaluate emerging technologies.
Over time, armed with these powerful new tools, people and organizations will be able to take on challenges that have confounded the human race. Cognitive machines have the potential to help us live more sustainably so we can address the destructive effects of climate change. They can help doctors defeat cancer and other dread diseases. They can help businesses operate more effectively and dynamically, yet, at the same time, minimize the negative effects of commerce on people and the environment. And, most broadly, they can help individuals, organizations, and, indeed, all of society, function in ways that foster peace, economic plenty and individual fulfillment.
But these tools will also pose new challenges to society. How do we incorporate into our lives computing systems that increasingly think like we do, that discover and provide insight from vast amounts of information?. Issues of privacy, and security must be addressed. More than any information technology waves of the past, cognitive computing will require individuals and institutions to be aware of the changes that are coming and to guide the way the technologies are used.
Today, we can only make educated guesses about where cognitive technologies will take us. Like the great technology visionary and A.M. Turing Award winner Alan Kay has said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” So, together, let’s invent the cognitive era.