Cognitive Systems — the 3rd Age of Computing

“When Watson defeated Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in the Jeopardy! Challenge of February 2011, it was clear that a new kind of computing system was emerging — one that could learn, reason, and understand natural language” (Source: IBM Research. Refer also to Exhibit 8.1).

Exhibit 8.1   Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with contestants Ken Jennings, Watson, and Brad Rutter (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.).

Welcome to the third age of computing. For the first time a computer could answer questions posed in plain English, and beat the very best in a quiz show. That question and answer machine, according to IBM’s Manoj Saxena, can now engage a consumer in a dialogue. Systems like Watson can interact with people and assist them in making complex decisions, after interpreting vast amounts of data comprising natural language, images as well as structured information.

As a commercial technology, a cloud enabled Watson may power new consumer and enterprise applications in areas as diverse as cooking recipes, shopping, travel, banking and health care. At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Watson is participating in a “Moon Shots” mission to end cancer. Watson has also been assisting oncologists at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York with health data and research around the world.

Whereas computers traditionally were designed for rapid calculations of structured data, cognitive systems process structured and unstructured information akin to how people think. These systems are trained by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to “sense, predict, infer and, in some ways, think”.

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