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What is Cognitive Computing?

prepared by Steve Hamm and Jim Spohrer for the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM)

Cognitive Computing for Smarties

Cognitive computing enables the next level of partnership between people and computers to augment human intelligence, boosting productivity and creativity of individuals and teams, thereby transforming industries and professions.

These machines or “Cogs” (cognitive computers) ingest vast amounts of data, learn from their interactions with people and information sources, reason about their their level of confidence in derived knowledge, and interact using language and other means that are more natural to us.

Once mastered, cognitive computing techniques provide the building blocks for iteratively developing increasingly sophisticated “Cogs” which help us to make better, faster decisions in our personal and professional lives.

The science behind cognitive computing:

To demonstrate cognitive computing in action, IBM built the now famous Jeopardy! TV game show winning machine known as Watson.

This history-making machine is capable of searching encyclopedic collections of information for potential answers to questions, ranking answers based on its confidence level in them, and pressing a button if it has enough confidence in its top-rated answer—all in less than 3 seconds.

IBM scientists worked for years to combine and innovate techniques from a number of computer science-related fields including machine learning, data mining, natural language processing, knowledge representation, text-to-speech synthesis, operations research, decision-making, game theory, cognitive science, psychology, linguistics, and more.

In universities, scholars typically pursue these fields in relative isolation. The Watson breakthrough came, in part, because IBM scientists and engineers combined the disciplines in new ways with a grand challenge goal always in mind. Nevertheless, the breakthrough would not have been possible without the assistance of university researchers, and open frameworks such as Apache UIMA.

The annals of artificial intelligence, now include three machines from IBM: Watson (Jeopardy! 2011), Deep Blue (Chess 1997), and Samuel’s machine (checkers 1957?).

However, the best is yet to come.

“Cogs” will be able to…

–Understand multiple languages.
— Reason about levels of confidence in their derived knowledge.
–Converse with people in spoken dialogues.
–Understand how professionals think—such as doctors and lawyers.
— Understand facial expression, voice, sensory information, and build deeper user models
–Help people make better decisions, learn complex material faster, make discoveries and create new knowledge.

“Cogs” will get smarter over time.

Of all these capabilities, learning is key.

Like people, “Cogs” will exhibit three types of learning over time.

Optimization: Learning to use existing knowledge more efficiently for specific tasks.

Education: Learning from other knowledge sources, people, books, the web, other “Cogs,” etc.

Discovery: Learning new surprising derived knowledge.

For now, most of the algorithms (cognitive computing techniques) for optimization, education, and discovery are provided manually by research scientists and engineers programming machines. However, as the amount of knowledge in machine-readable grows, knowledge itself with become a new form of big data for “Cogs” to use to derive new knowledge and algorithms in partnership with people and organizations that can benefit from the new knowledge.

As “ProfessionCogs” (cognitive computers for all professions) get smarter over time they will help people improve their performance as well. With “Cogs” everyone can eventually have a combined expert tutor and cognitive assistant. As professionals exhibit new best practices, their “ProfessionCogs” will notice and learn, ultimately contributing to the body of knowledge for every profession.

In sum, cognitive computing enables the next level of partnership between people and computers to augment human intelligence, boosting productivity and creativity of individuals and teams, thereby transforming industries and professions.

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