IBM research stakes its future on cognitive computing | ZDNet
IBM Senior Vice President John E. Kelly / Photo: Audrey Quinn
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY – IBM began its colloquium on cognitive computing today with a jewel in the company’s crown. Senior Vice President John E. Kelly took the stage following a video from January 14th, 2011 – the day when IBM’s Watson machine handedly beat Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Ken Rutter.
“I remember saying to the audience at that time,” recalled Kelly, “I don’t know if we’re going to win today. But it’s only a matter of when not if a system like Watson is going to surpass human beings at this task. People asked, ‘When did you realize how important this was?’ I think I realized in the year coming up to this that this was really special. Something was really changing in the way that computer systems interacted with people – something very big beyond just a game show is occurring here.”
So what is going on here? The world of data is now exploding, Kelly said, and machines like Watson have arose to provide us with better ways of harnessing this information.
“We are literally creating a digital universe,” he said. “And the way we have to process that is different than we’ve ever experienced before. What we were creating was a system that would be able to deal with portions of this tsunami of data coming at us. If we try to use first generation computing against this wave, it can’t be done. So we need a whole different set of systems, extracting information from noisy data sources in order to come up with rational answers.”
Kelly broke down the history of computing into three eras. First, there was the the tabulating era, with early calculators and tabulating machines made of mechanical systems and later, vacuum tubes. “In the first era of computing we basically fed data in on punch cards,” he said. “There was really no extraction of the data itself, the data was just going along for the ride.”
Next came the programmable era of computing, which ranged in form from vacuum tubes to microprocessors. “It was about taking processes and putting them into the machine,” Kelly explained. “It’s completely controlled by the programming we inflict on the system.”
And now, Kelly said, we are entering the era of cognitive computing, where computers can help us to unlock the insights that this new wealth of data holds. “If we don’t make this transition,” Kelly argued, “the data will be too big for us to have any impact on it. I think that this era of computing is going to be about scaling human capability. The separation between human and machine is going to blur in a very fundamental way.”