The IBM Manifesto for Cognitive Computing
Daryl Pereira 270002AW8D firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  research watson cognitive saperstein
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Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, by John E Kelly III and Steve Hamm, Columbia Business School, 2014
The Cloud, Analytics and Social Engagement seem to be the defining technologies driving the next wave of systems and enterprise transformation. That a new era is upon us seems self-evident, but it leads to other questions: What does it mean? Who will benefit? What do we need to pay attention to?
One perspective in the spectrum is alarming: Edward Snowden, who alerted us to unprecedented invasions of privacy that challenge our basic assumptions of citizen rights; Michael Lewis, who in Flash Boys informed us about nefarious Internet poachers who game the market. Every day we read of hackers, both governments and individuals, who threaten our very security and societal stability. Ask anyone who has had credit card identity theft how dreadful it can be to re-establish one’s reputation. There is no shortage of evidence that the era of global connectivity and access to data could be a nihilistic nightmare in the absence of soul, ethics, and vigilant oversight.
However, John Kelly III, Director of IBM Research, ably assisted by business writer Steve Hamm, have provided an alternate vision of the Era of Cognitive Computing that holds greater promise for good than ever before: “… assisting people to do what they are unable to do today, vastly expanding the problems we can solve and creating new spheres of innovation in every industry.”
While focused on the discoveries over decades that IBM Research Labs have pioneered, the authors connect the dots from the science of invention to the innovation for societal benefits in coherent, clear, and comprehensible examples and stories. Engineers and scientists may feel most at home with the technical details explained. Surely, STEM university students should be inspired by the wonder, curiosity and fulfillment portrayed of IBMers devoting careers to continuous evolution of applied research in technology development for the common good. I hope that business students, software developers and designers, and entrepreneurs read this to better understand how business engineering based on cognitive computing will enable future by leveraging the technology to discover service business opportunities.
We get to see how the development of Watson to beat the best contestants in Jeopardy was the harbinger of Cognitive Computing to create Smart Systems for application to every aspect of human endeavor.
The book provides five operational imperatives that enable us to see the future areas of benefit by explaining how IBM got here through past and current research:
One of the most compelling examples of how this comes together for societal benefit is the story of how the City of Rio de Janiero linked all data to improve the holistic functioning of the city systems: water, health, traffic, crime prevention, etc.
The authors provide us with IBM’s vision for their research role in helping to create the future. By design, this is about IBM’s journey from enabling the past, present and future innovation. It is a bold, “shoot for the stars” vision. However, it begs the questions of how this role will fit with other great enterprises, such as Google and Qualcomm, who are also engaged in creating the future through cognitive computing. Are they collaborators, competitors, or both? How much of this will be open-sourced? How does this affect the very basic financial fundamentals of corporate profits and margins when so much will be available at no/low cost to so many? And a bigger question is: who is “minding the store” for the use of data with soul, ethics, and vigilance?
Let’s hope the promise of the era of cognitive computing to raise collective intelligence to solve big problems, and to enable innovative transformation for the public good, will be fulfilled by the next generation, who will have their chance to invent the future co-creating with Smart Machines.
Jeff Saperstein is cofounder of CVC Group and co-author of Service Thinking: The Seven Principles to Discover Innovative Opportunities