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.
Continue Reading »
By David Kerr
Director, Corporate Strategy, IBM
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States, and, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.6 million new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. Discoveries in molecular biology and genetics in recent years have produced new insights into cancer biology, but these advances have also ratcheted up the complexity of diagnosing and treating each case.
The disease is one of the most important fields of medicine, yet it’s devilishly complex and there’s too much information for any single practitioner to keep up with.
A collaboration announced today between Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and IBM could revolutionize how physicians in the United States and worldwide get access to world-class information about cancer.
By David Ferrucci
Lead Researcher, IBM Watson
A year has passed since the Watson computer developed by my team at IBM Research defeated two all-time champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! A lot has happened since then. IBM launched a new business, IBM Watson Solutions, which is tasked with commercializing the technology. The Solutions team is developing versions of Watson for a number of industries, starting with healthcare and financial services. (Suggestions? Tweet to #WhatShouldWatsonDoNext?) Meanwhile, there’s plenty to do in IBM Research. We spent four years developing Watson for Jeopardy!, but that’s just the beginning of what Watson can become.
Watson is a first step in a new era of computing. There were two previous eras in the evolution of data processing machines: the tabulating era, which began in the late 1800s; and the computing era, which started in the 1940s. We’re now entering a period when machines will become increasingly capable of learning – graduating from moving bits around to understanding what they mean and how they apply to our lives. These machines will be ubiquitous. They’ll be extremely powerful. And they’ll utterly transform the relationships between humans with computers. No longer will computers be simply data processing devices. Think of them as intelligent machines.