IBM Watson is famous for its escapades on the Jeopardy! TV quiz show. IBM has been collaborating with oncologists to leverage the question-answering technology in deciding on the best medical treatments for individual patients. And, in recent months, IBM has been engaging with businesses to put Watson to work in banks, retail stores, and corporate offices. IBM Researchers have their own ideas–featured in the 5in5 predictions. But it’s clear that there will be no end of uses for cognitive computing technologies like Watson that can learn, reason and interact with humans in ways that are more natural to us.
That’s where you come in. As a scientist, an engineer, a marketer, or an entrepreneur, your skills and ideas will be essential for inventing the new era. For consumers of technology, social networking gives you a seat at the table where the future is being designed. Your voices will shape the thinking of technologists and the services they offer to you.
That’s why we’re inviting people of all types to pitch in and help identify promising uses for Watson and other cognitive technologies. We got a number of smart suggestions in response to our call for ideas on Dec. 17. (Read on for details.) Now, we’re renewing our appeal. The best ideas get Watson T-shirts!
The winner of the first round is Jan Pasek, who goes by the nickname of Johnny Pasho. He’s a 27-year-old data storage administrator at IBM’s delivery center in Brno, Czech Republic. His idea is to use IBM Watson technology as a digital companion for elderly people–helping them to interact with other people and to navigate life more successfully.
Johnny wrote: “There was always a big gap between parents, grandparents and their offspring. Nowadays it seems like the world we live in has almost nothing in common with the world we’re conceived in. These changes are very hard to translate into life experience of our older folks. I am thinking of cognitive appliances that would be able to communicate with elderly people and help them understand today’s world in terms they understand.”
Some of the other suggestions are also intriguing:
From Chandan Sanilya, a technical consultant at an IBM’s delivery center in Kolkata, India: “We could make smart phones SMARTER by enabling them to send SOS messages or distress calls automatically to predefined set of numbers in emergent situations… The device can be equipped with sensors to keep a tab on pulse rate, heart beat, body temperature, peripheral noise and other physiological attributes of the user. The data can be constantly monitored by intelligent software to identify abnormal readings.”
From Rick: “I would suggest applying cognitive computing to essential functions, such as growing food for the people and surviving on this planet. By analyzing and tracking water tables, aquifers, weather patterns, historical data, etc. Using predictive systems and regression analysis, advise the farmers when the best time to plant their seed, and when and how much water is required, localized to the needs of each specific farm or agricultural community. There is much efficiency to be gained and the benefits are pervasive.”
From Jim: “Since in science, what we don’t know is just as important as what we know, I would suggest posing the question, ‘What don’t we know about (insert topic)?’ or, ‘What is classified as unknown in the literature on (insert topic)?’”
While blue-sky thinking sometimes rewards us with brilliant ideas, more often its the ideas that are closely related to our own experiences that turn out to have the greatest potential impact. In the case of Johnny Pasho, he was thinking about three of his grandparents, now deceased, with whom he regrets not having deeper communications and connections. He has had a much closer relationship with his surviving grandparent, Drahomira Steigerova, who has always had a youthful outlook on life and tremendous curiosity about current happenings. “With the others, I didn’t talk about a lot of things because I didn’t think they could relate. I just talked to them about what they had lived through. It would be great to have an app or companion that could help bridge the gap,” he says.
Johnny also sees a use for IBM Watson in his own professional life. He’s one of those people who seems to have an idea a minute. But he finds that unless he talks to others about his ideas, he doesn’t think very deeply or critically about them. Therefore, a lot of his ideas don’t go anywhere. But what if Watson could play the role of a brainstorming buddy–batting ideas back and forth, probing for insights. “Working with Watson could solve this problem for me,” Johnny says.
To learn more about the era of cognitive systems, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.