By Michael Rhodin
When IBM’s original Watson computer competed and won on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, it demonstrated to an audience of millions how a computer could understand the rules of a game and quickly retrieve facts from a vast storehouse of information.
That question-answering skill is a key element of what we call the era of cognitive computing. It is already beginning to impact whole domains of human endeavor, starting with the way physicians treat diseases. And it’s improving the productivity of business—by beginning to transform online shopping and customer service. Continue Reading »
As cognitive computing advances, it’s becoming obvious that these new capabilities will ultimately touch nearly every aspect of life–augmenting human intelligence and spreading expertise. Watson’s newest focus is on the customer experience.
We have all faced frustrations when we’re trying to find just the right product or service, comparison shop or get something fixed or updated. We want personalized attention and quick and easy answers to our questions. A newly announced alliance of IBM and Genesys, a leading provider of customer experience and contact center solutions, aims to help companies serve their customers better. Here’s a scenario explaining how the services will work:
By Michael Karasick
When Thomas J. Watson Sr. joined IBM in 1914 as its president, the firm didn’t have a single engineer on its payroll, so he quickly hired engineers and set up a product development group in a brownstone near New York’s Penn Station. He created a patent development department in 1932 and, in 1945, he established the first corporate scientific research laboratory. Today, IBM Research has grown to become the largest corporate research organization in the world, with 3000 professionals at 12 labs in 10 countries.
The point is that the nature of innovation keeps evolving and organizations have to change with it.
That’s why IBM is adopting a new approach to innovation for our newly formed IBM Watson Group, which will be headquartered in New York’s Silicon Alley. In the group, we are melding research, product development, experience design and collaboration with business partners and clients—all with the goal of accelerating the development of cognitive computing solutions for many of the world’s most vexing problems. This new era of computing requires a new approach to innovation.
Our Watson initiative builds on top of IBM’s long tradition of innovation, which placed IBM as the No. 1 recipient of US patents in 2013 for the 21st year in a row. We received 6,809 patents, easily outdistancing Samsung, the No. 2 finisher, with 4,676. The next US company on the top 10 list, Microsoft, ranked No. 5.
By Steve Hamm
At IBM, Watson seems to be everywhere these days. The cognitive computer that beat two grand champions on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy!, has a team working on enhancements in IBM Research; software programmers developing services for businesses and whole industries; programming and ideation contests in universities; two books about it (Final Jeopardy! and Smart Machines); and, now, an Off-Broadway play.
That’s right, Playwrights Horizons is presenting The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, by playwright Madeleine George—which opened on Nov. 15 and will continue through Dec. 29. It’s an exploration of the relationships between people and the people and machines we depend on. The play draws on parallels between IBM’s Watson, the character Dr. Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame and the Watson who Alexander Graham Bell called in the first-ever telephone conversation. At times funny and other times emotionally wrenching, the play examines our mixed feelings about being helped by others. George is featured here.
The first era of computing was defined by simple calculations. The second era, beginning in the 1940s, introduced us to programmable systems. Now we’re entering the era of cognitive computing. In this era we will have machines that will learn, reason, sense, predict and interact more naturally with human beings. IBM Watson is a significant step in that direction and is currently working with doctors to fight cancer.
By Manoj Saxena
Social and technological shifts are driving rapid change, altering ways in which individuals interact with one another, learn, and attend to their personal and business needs. These shifts offer the potential to strengthen the relationships between companies and their customers—enabling more individual and directed communication and allowing organizations to cater to individual needs. Yet, for many, today’s online customer experiences lack personalization, timeliness and trust.
But what if companies could offer their customers the kind of personalized and knowledgeable assistance when they’re online or on the phone that people have come to expect from top-flight customer service delivered in person? Continue Reading »
With more than 225 indigenous languages, Europe is rich with multi-lingualism, and that’s why the Council of Europe proclaimed today the European Day of Languages. It aims to promote rich linguistic and cultural diversity and encourage lifelong language learning.
However, the interest in languages (and the human language in general) is not only close to the heart of institutions, but also – perhaps somewhat unexpectedly – to the global technology industry.
It seemed like any other early Wednesday night as an undergraduate computer science student at Carnegie Mellon: I had programming assignments to start and papers to complete. I thought to myself I should find a quiet, empty room on campus, set up shop, and tackle my work right away. But I couldn’t – instead I headed down to a large auditorium on the fourth floor of the Gates computer science building. As a budding machine learning researcher and avid student of modern artificial intelligence, there was something that I absolutely had to see: a one million dollar match between two grand champion Jeopardy! players and a computer system IBM developed and named Watson.
Watching Watson triumph on Jeopardy! was inspiring: it was the stuff that we computer scientists live for. I clearly remember sitting on the edge of my seat, heart racing, and eyes glued to the screen and thinking, with the slightest hint of jealousy, “I wish that I could work on Watson.” At the conclusion of the match, when Watson showed the world exactly the kind of stellar performance that we can expect from it, I thought, “those are all PhDs who worked on Watson; it will be a very long time before I’m qualified enough to work on Watson.
I am so very glad I was wrong. Half a year after watching that historic match I learned that IBM created it’s first-ever Watson internship program and I, along with nearly 1400 other students applied to participate. Along with 18 others, I was fortunate to be selected and have spent the past 3 months working with IBM developers, researchers and software and business industry experts in IBM’s software group in Littleton, Massachusetts with the goal of commercializing the most advanced, state of the art artificial intelligence system.
As eager as I was to explore Watson, in the beginning I was apprehensive about this internship. My perception of IBM was of a monolithic, sturdy, awesomely gigantic company that made me worry that I was walking straight into the movie Office Space. My first day was filled with so many buzzwords, IBM lingo, protocols, (the occasional IBM joke) and “blue” everything that I thought I should have worn a smock rather than a pair of khaki pants. I thought to myself, “Am I going to be painted over to blend with the rest of this company? Or will I remain an individual?”
After a week of adjusting to the ebb and flow of IBM’s Littleton lab my preconceived notions were dispelled. In practice, I have found that the day to day operations of IBM, from the perspective of a software engineer, are like a small business. Most days, I directly work with less than ten people. As such, I’ve been able to nurture close bonds with my colleagues; this includes full time IBMers as well as fellow interns. Working at IBM has a small business feel coupled with the vast resources of one of the largest businesses in the world – when my team needs a new server to run multiple experiments simultaneously on gigabytes of data, we receive one in less than a day. When I cannot figure out how to solve a problem, and my internet searches turn up nothing, there is an IBMer an email away who is more than willing to help. I have found that working at IBM, you sense your efforts and individualism are being woven into a greater, more complete whole.
At the conclusion of my internship experience, I can reflect and say working on Watson has been an excellent experience. My fears of being painted over and hoarding red staplers were unfounded. In actuality, throughout the summer, I was graced with not only an intellectually stimulating project, but with a group of fantastic, intelligent, and determined colleagues. My mentors were brilliant, helpful, and wise and I am grateful that I have learned so much under their tutelage. My fellow interns have been a blast to work with and we have been able to produce some amazing work in just twelve short weeks. The scope and ambition of the entire IBM Watson division is inspiring; I feel honored to have been one of the inaugural interns working on Watson this summer for a company that has never stopped changing the world.
Like many serial inventors, mathematician Dimitri Kanevsky looks for solutions for problems that he faces in his own life. In his case, some of his biggest challenges are related to the fact that he has been deaf since age 3.
Kanevsky, a member of the speech and language algorithms department at IBM Research, has invented a long string of hearing- and speech-related technologies. They include a system for helping people improve the effectiveness of lip-reading, a method that enables deaf people to converse on the telephone and an Internet-based system for capturing real-time transcripts of phone conferences. “I like to solve challenging problems, and I get a thrill from creating novel math concepts and making discoveries,” he says.
Today, Kanevsky will get another kind of thrill–when he’s honored with a Champion of Change award at the White House. The award recognizes individuals who make a positive impact on science, technology, engineering and math for people with disabilities. Here’s a livestream video link for the event.
While Kanevsky has a long record of achievements as an inventor, including 152 US patents, it’s clear from talking to him that some of his most important inventions may come in the future.
Dr. William R. LaFontaine
Vice President, Technical Strategy
Coming from IBM Research, I think of innovation in two dimensions. First, there is the continuous innovation that goes into IBM’s products and services. This innovation provides important advances to current technology as well as helps IBM introduce breakthrough products. The benefits of this approach are clear in IBM’s next-generation computing platform PureSystems.
But we also look for more exploratory challenges that help us advance science by leaps and bounds. We call them grand challenges. Meeting them requires a very different set of practices and capabilities – and presents some interesting problems.
And that was the topic today as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, DC hosted a forum with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, IBM and Qualcomm to discuss how we can meet the next Grand Challenges.
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