Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
human versus machine

Lawrence "Shabu" Mwangi, artist,  photographer

Lawrence “Shabu” Mwangi, artist, photographer

By Lawrence “Shabu” Mwangi
Winner of IBM’s The World is Our Lab – Africa Photo Competition

I was born and have lived in the Mukuru slums in Nairobi, Kenya, for most of my life. I have witnessed first-hand the challenges to mental, emotional well – being and all kinds of challenges – some of which I can’t categorize.

I was strong enough to go through all that, but I had my weaknesses which overcame me at points. Still, I remained focused with whom I wanted to be. Though I was very good in school, I didn’t take further steps with education due to my home situation and the insecure environment.

But I remained strong in my education path and still believe in education and I have been educating myself till now.

Despite all this I was able to hold on to whom I wanted to see in me – and this was an artist. Art was a tool which I knew since I was young and believed I could use as a medium to say something. In 2009 I got interested in photography and was involved in a photography workshop. Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share

Dr. Gardiner Tucker

Dr. Gardiner Tucker, Director of Research (1963-67)

By Gardiner Tucker

I said about IBM’s research organization, when I joined the Watson lab at Columbia University in 1952, that it provided a wonderful degree of academic freedom, even though it wasn’t technically academic. That was the same spirit in which we started the Fellows program when I became director in 1963.

IBM Research had by the 1960s established itself at the forefront of a number of technical disciplines that we judged had the potential to lead to new hardware and software, as well as entire new fields of information systems. Recognizing our people for leading these breakthroughs was, at the time, through promotion to team leader or department manager.

What we needed was a way to encourage and reward individuals in a way that let them continue creative research, unencumbered by administrative duties. We also wanted to cultivate a way to encourage individual “gadflies” or “catalysts,” who could stimulate ideas in others, and help colleagues overcome bottlenecks.

This is why we decided to start the IBM Fellow program. We chose the name “fellow” by analogy with how universities recognized outstanding scholars. Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share

IBM, MIT Sloan School of Management and Harvard Business School today are sponsoring a symposium at the the two universities. The morning topic: How advances in information technology can help improve productivity, and improve incomes and create jobs for the 99%. It’s being followed this afternoon by a mock Jeopardy! match between Watson, IBM’s very smart computer, and teams from MIT and HBS.


Teams of three students from MIT/Sloan and HBS take on IBM’s Watson. (This is only the second contest matching Watson against collegians. In the previous contest, Watson beat teams from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt came in second, much to the chagrin of rival CMU!)

Harvard wins the first question, with “What is Belize?” Answering: countries in central America, ending with “e”

But then Watson takes over, running the category.

The machine picks “Who’s Your Daddy Company?” as the next category, eliciting a huge hook of laughter from the audience.

They finished the Jeopardy! round, with Watson, $8600; Harvard, $5200  ; and MIT,  $-200 .

(I got disconnected from HBS’s Wi-Fi at a crucial moment, destroying the coverage of the second round. Grrrrr)

Final Jeopardy!

Clue: Finding the spot for this memorial caused its creator to say “Americans will march across that skyline.”

The question: Mt. Rushmore.

Harvard and Watson answer correctly. MIT does not.

Final score: Watson, $53,601; Harvard, $42,399; MIT, $100.

!!!!! Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share

We asked on the People for a Smarter Planet Facebook page what IBM’s next grand challenge should be–now that a team at IBM Research accomplished the previous grand-challenge goal of creating a computer that could beat past champions at TV’s Jeopardy! quiz show. More than 750 people responded with ideas and votes. And the winner, with 303 votes, is: “create a working quantum computer.”

This quest would be plenty challenging. Computer Scientists have been developing theories about quantum computing ever since physicist Richard Feynman first proposed the concept of computing based on quantum mechanical phenomena in 1982. Nearly 30 years later, there are no quantum computers.

Another proposition came in a close second, with 277 votes: “fight global warming.” (This one got my vote.)

Other suggestions ranged from the earnest, such as “take healthcare to the next level,” with 18 votes; to the ridiculous, “time travel,” with 97 votes.

We’ll pass along the top suggestions to the folks at IBM Research.

To read what it’s all about, see two previous posts, this one by IBM researcher Dario Gil about the effort to create learning systems, and this one, the live blogging stream from IBM Research’s colloquium, the Frontiers of IT.

Bookmark and Share


E-Masary’s vision is to establish a REAL-TIME payment gateway for the masses that enriches their lives through job creation while jointly mobilizing and linking the lives of the banked with the un-banked.

Watch their 1-minute pitch, then VOTE for them by clicking “LIKE” below: Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share
June 2nd, 2011

YouTube Preview Image

We asked students and faculty members at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest what they think Watson should do next, now that it has vanquished the former champions of Jeopardy! Here’s what they had to say.

Bookmark and Share
May 22nd, 2011

brainOn several occasions during his decades as an IBM executive, former CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. went out of his way to differentiate between human brains and computers. The goal of IBM, he said, was to make machines that could serve as tools for humans, not replace them. By taking on many of the more routine tasks that people were saddled with, he said, machines would free humans up to do more fulfilling creative work.

Today’s computers are “smarter” than those of the mid-20th century, when Watson was busy trying to calm people’s fears about the onslaught of electronic brains.  But even with the achievements and potential of Watson, the Jeopardy-playing computer,  IBM is pushing the borders of machine capability with the goal of augmenting human thought, not replacing human brains with machines.

Still it’s intriguing to compare the two, and for scientists, nature offers models for next-generation computer design. At the conference IBM Research Colloquia – Zurich last week, Prof. Karlheinz Meier of  Heidelberg University spoke about neuromorphic computers during his presentation on Brain Inspired Computing. A key aspect of neuromorphic computing is understanding how the brain works and attempting to mimic some of its functions in silicon.

For me, the most intriguing moment during Meier’s presentation was when an audience member asked him a question that got to the heart of the man vs. machine debate. Essentially, he asked: Why copy nature? Why not aim to do better?

Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share

People were impressed when IBM’s Watson question-and-answer computer beat the two former champions at the Jeopardy! TV quiz show. Now they’re asking: what else can it do?

The company’s researchers and business leaders have been busy searching commercial uses for the technology, and they’re making progress. David Ferrucci, the IBM Fellow who heads up the Watson project, today told a group of journalists and analysts at a briefing on Big Data at IBM Research that the healthcare field is especially promising. IBM is developing applications in collaboration with physicians and researchers at Columbia University and the University of Maryland. Meanwhile, it took one researcher just three months to adapt the Watson Jeopardy! database to the medical field. Presumably, adaptations to other domains will be relatively easy, as well.

But a big issue is affordability. Watson is “embarrassingly parallel,” in computer science parlance—meaning the machine uses thousands of high-performance microprocessors. Embarrassing parallelism is expensive.

During a break form the briefing, I asked Ferrucci and other IBM colleagues about the affordability issue. Ferrucci’s response was that the cost of computing is dropping rapidly, and that the more industries Watson can serve and the more applications that are running on the platform, the more affordable it will be for each individual client.

Rod Smith, another IBM Fellow who heads up the Emerging Internet Technologies group at IBM Research, told me that another key will be the simplicity of the user interface. If IBM can develop user-friendly interfaces, clients will get rapid adoption of the technology and rapid returns on their investments. So, even if the service is relatively expensive, it will be worth the price.

Another key to affordability will be setting up Watson services for specific industries as shared services offered from the computing cloud. That way, many clients can use the same application and the same computing resources, making the services highly efficient.

It has been just three months since the Jeopardy! contest, but, already, it’s clear that the Watson machine has a life after Jeopardy! In the months ahead we’ll find out whether it can play a major role in making the world work better.

Bookmark and Share

Dr. Eric Brown from IBM Research preps four members of congress - Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.) - for an exhibition game against IBM's Watson on Monday, Feb. 28, 2011.  The match fostered a conversation among government leaders about the importance of IT to U.S. global competitiveness and encouraged greater focus on math and science education.   Final score: Watson $40,300, Congressional Members $30,000. (Photo credit: Tom Briglia/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

Dr. Eric Brown from IBM Research preps four members of congress - Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.) - for an exhibition game against IBM's Watson on Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The match fostered a conversation among government leaders about the importance of IT to U.S. global competitiveness and encouraged greater focus on math and science education. Final score: Watson $40,300, Congressional Members $30,000. (Photo credit: Tom Briglia/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

Coming off the heels of its recent Jeopardy! win, IBM’s Watson computing system faced off against Congress last night for an exhibition match in Washington with five U.S.Congress members.

The bipartisan group put politics aside to test their trivia knowledge and foster conversations about the importance of IT to U.S. global competitiveness and encourage greater focus on math and science education. Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share

IBM's Watson computing system

IBM's Watson computing system

When we think of the systems that make up a smarter planet, what typically comes to mind are industries like manufacturing, transportation, energy, or banking.  But there is another ‘industry’ that needs to become smarter.  We might call it the humanitarian industry.  That is, the system that creates a safety net to support society and is made up of philanthropies, social services, education organizations, NGOs and government agencies.

In many ways, this is the most human of all systems.  So it is ironic to consider how Watson, a computing system, could help us solve civic, social and cultural challenges and make smarter humanitarian decisions. But Watson’s deep QA technology presents new possibilities to do just that.  Through private sector collaboration with nonprofits, Watson can become the next innovation to be used as a force for societal good.

Continue Reading »

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to this category Subscribe to human versus machine