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Another Person for a Smarter Planet

Yuchun Lee, Vice President and General Manager, IBM Enterprise Marketing Management Group

By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Yuchun Lee knows about taking risks — and about winning. For seven years following college at MIT he was a member of the infamous MIT blackjack team, spending weekends in Las Vegas counting cards (it’s legal) and winning bundles.

During that same period, Lee and two partners started Unica Corp., a pioneer in marketing and analytics software. They bootstrapped the business (with no outside capital), built it into an industry leader and sold it to IBM in 2010 for about $500 million.

Today, as vice president of IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Management group, Lee has a lot to say about risk as he helps Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) worldwide understand the enormous gamble they’re taking if they fail to adapt — and fast — to the new age of marketing.

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David Bartlett, Vice President, Industry Solutions, Smarter Buildings, IBM Software Group

By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Every time you walk into a building, think about this: it’s alive and kicking and wants to be fed.

It’s not just some static structure standing there. As Dave Bartlett, vice president of smarter buildings at IBM, sees it, a building is remarkably analogous to a living organism.

The heating and cooling system is also the building’s respiratory system, bringing in fresh air and removing carbon dioxide. It consumes enormous amounts of energy and water along with producing the associated waste.

The musculoskeletal system provides form, support, stability and movement to the building. Sensors, computer monitoring and other instrumentation make up the building’s nervous system.

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Ruhong Zhou, Ph.D., conducts groundbreaking avian flu research on IBM Blue Gene

The next time an avian flu scare strikes — as it did in 2004 and likely will again — the world may be better prepared thanks to the work of Ruhong Zhou, research staff scientist and manager of the Soft Matter Theory and Simulation Group at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

Zhou and his team have been using an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer to anticipate genetic changes in the H5N1 influenza virus (commonly known as avian or bird flu) that might pose a serious threat to human health. Although H5N1 rarely infects the human population, when it does it has an extremely high mortality rate.

In a recent breakthrough, Zhou was able to computationally identify the single mutation in H5N1 that, should it occur, would debilitate antibodies in our immune system from fighting off this deadly flu. Armed with this information, pharmaceutical companies could design a vaccine that would compensate for this mutation and allow people to develop the necessary antibodies to combat H5N1 if they contract it.

“By isolating and anticipating this mutation, we can be proactive in creating a vaccine before the next avian flu outbreak strikes — potentially saving lives and even helping prevent a global pandemic,” Zhou said.

Taking the guesswork out of vaccine design

Influenza can undergo various mutations over a short time period, so trying to predict exactly how a flu strain will mutate next is the first step in vaccine development. It is too costly and time-intensive, however, to do this type of upfront research by trial and error in a traditional lab setting, so Zhou uses computer simulations to do his work.

Blue Gene provides the computational power to rapidly and efficiently simulate mutations at the atomic level so scientists can now predict a mutation with great accuracy and take much of the guesswork out of vaccine design.

Zhou simulated over 100 single and double mutations of H5N1’s hemagglutinin (HA) protein on Blue Gene in order to pinpoint the single, antibody-suppressing mutation he sought. Using all of Blue Gene’s 8,000 processors, it took two days to model each mutation. By comparison, it would take 8,000 days — or 22 years — to run each model on a laptop or desktop computer with a dual CPU.

“We could have never done our research without Blue Gene,” said Zhou, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University, where he currently teaches graduate level courses. “High performance computing of this sort is enabling a new era of breakthroughs in life science and holds great promise for advances in personalized medicine as well.”

Avian flu is an ongoing threat and has the potential to erupt into a pandemic someday. Zhou's work will help the world be better prepared and potentially save lives.

A proactive approach to preventing pandemics

For Zhou, who recently published his findings in Biophysical Journal, this breakthrough is particularly meaningful because of the real promise it holds for public health.

“As scientists, we often do some basic research just for our own curiosity — and achieving the results is gratification enough,” Zhou said. “But this is not just for our own interest; this is something very, very important to human society.”

Along with his avian flu research, Zhou has been using Blue Gene for the past six years to model genetic variations and predict mutations in other influenza strains, including swine flu (H1N1) and Hong Kong flu (H3N2). Zhou hopes the ability to anticipate mutations will prompt the medical community to start preparing preemptive vaccines well ahead of flu outbreaks, rather than responding after the fact (and after lives have been lost), which is the usual practice.

“We need to move from a reactive model of vaccine development to a proactive one,” Zhou said. “Our ability to accurately predict what mutations will happen next should give pharmaceutical companies the confidence to invest in vaccine production early enough to mount a strong defense against a virus and prevent a pandemic.”

Partnerships with government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and with pharmaceutical companies that want to use Zhou’s research to guide vaccine design are essential to realizing the full potential of Zhou’s work.

“With the right funding model and partnerships we can continue to explore influenza strains as well as other infectious diseases, such as HIV,” Zhou said. “I firmly believe that together we can develop better vaccines that will have a profound impact on society’s health and well-being.”

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Basit Chaudhry, M.D., Ph.D., believes IBM Watson holds the key to better healthcare delivery

As a medical student in a large public hospital in New York City, Basit Chaudhry, M.D., first experienced one of the most vexing problems facing doctors today: How do you discover and deal with all the information that’s required to provide optimal care?

“So much of what doctors do today is about trying to figure out how to collect and aggregate all the necessary medical data,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “As I went further along in my training and practice it became more and more apparent to me that if we don’t solve this problem, it’s going to be difficult to build a better, more humane healthcare system.” Continue Reading »

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Sarah Slaughter, director of the Built Environment Coalition

For all those companies that are unsure about how to adopt sustainable business practices and concerned about the long-term management implications, Sarah Slaughter, Ph.D., a leading authority on business sustainability, can provide some reassuring perspective:

Sustainability is also an opportunity — and potentially a huge one.

When implemented properly — by building partnerships and taking a systems approach to solving problems — sustainability can create new markets and provide a business with opportunities for new products, services, innovation and revenue streams.

“Sustainability is about doing good and being a good citizen at one level — and that’s immensely valuable to a business,” Dr. Slaughter said. “But along with that is this wonderful opportunity for real financial growth, which can make sustainability much more than just a matter of compliance for a company.” Continue Reading »

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Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office

By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Eames Demetrios can remember visiting his grandparents, the husband-and-wife design duo Charles and Ray Eames, at their studio when he was a boy to watch them work on Powers of Ten, the classic educational film they made for IBM in 1977.

Today, as director of the Eames Office, Demetrios is devoted to preserving and extending the legacy and work of his grandparents. In addition to creating some of the most iconic furniture designs of the 20th century, they made more than 15 films and designed 30 exhibits for IBM in a relationship that began in 1953 and spanned three decades.

Demetrios considers it his mission to communicate Charles and Ray’s visionary ideas to as wide an audience as possible: “As beautiful as the objects are that Charles and Ray created, the ideas behind them are just as beautiful and just as important and relevant today.”

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Bill Reichert, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures

When venture capitalist Bill Reichert talks about his criteria for choosing tech start-ups to invest in, you may be surprised to find that ROI (return on investment) is but a small part of the conversation.

Instead, Reichert — who is managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, a leading early-stage venture capital firm in Palo Alto, California — points to other qualities that he considers essential to a start-up’s success.

By focusing more on an entrepreneur’s passion, vision and desire to do good in the world than on hard numbers and spreadsheets, Reichert and his peers represent a new paradigm for responsible investing.

“Perhaps the top indicator of success for an entrepreneurial team is that it’s motivated by some higher goal, beyond ROI,” Reichert said.

“ROI is key in every business plan, but what we look for from entrepreneurs is something that gives them a bigger goal than just being a little bit cheaper, a little bit faster, a little bit more economic for their potential customers,” he said.

That bigger purpose can be just about anything: helping people, building a sustainable business, cleaning the environment…you name it. “But whatever that motivation is, we know that’s what’s going to make for a successful company,” Reichert said.

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Jason Hlady leads the World Community Grid team at the University of Saskatchewan

When Jason Hlady sees a computer that is turned on but not being used, just sitting there, idling away, he can’t help but think of the possibilities…

That dormant machine could, at that very moment, be running computations to help cure cancer or fight AIDS. It could be solving algorithms that might lead to clean water solutions, or reduce world hunger, or accelerate any number of other worthy research projects.

Hlady, a high performance computing coordinator at the University of Saskatchewan, wants to cut waste and tap the potential of idle computers across the university. To that end, he is leading the drive to get faculty and staff to connect to the World Community Grid — a global network that pools unused computing power and repurposes it for humanitarian research.

As leader of the university’s World Community Grid team, Hlady encourages colleagues to install software that connects their computers to the grid and runs research computations on the machines when they are on, but idle.

“When a computer sits idle, all that energy is just going up a smokestack,” Hlady said. “By joining the World Community Grid, we’re able to put otherwise wasted computing power to good use, helping solve some of the major problems facing our world today.”

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Igor Jurisica, Ph.D, uses the power of World Community Grid to conduct his cancer research

Igor Jurisica, Ph.D, uses the power of World Community Grid to conduct his cancer research.

When Igor Jurisica started doing cancer research 11 years ago, he worked with about a dozen colleagues using a handful of scientific workstations in a small lab in Toronto, Canada.

How times have changed.

Today, Jurisica, a senior scientist at Princess Margaret Hospital, Ontario Cancer Institute, conducts his research with the help of nearly 300,000 people spread across 100 countries running his calculations on over 900,000 devices. Continue Reading »

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

Ashifi Gogo, Sproxil CEO

Ashifi Gogo, Sproxil CEO

For Ashifi Gogo, commercial success and social benefit are inextricably linked. In launching his cell phone-based drug authentication service, Sproxil, in emerging markets, Gogo saw great opportunity to combat a major problem and make a real difference. He also saw a great business opportunity.

“I had long been upset by the lack of global start-ups with solutions that make an impact in developing nations,” Gogo said. “With our technology, we had an opportunity to operate in emerging markets and solve a critical social problem while doing well commercially. For me, the two sides have always been self-combined.” Continue Reading »

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