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February 14, 2011 was a momentous day. It was Valentine’s Day, of course, and romance was in the air. It was also the day in which a technology major unveiled a completely automated system that challenged humans in the popular televised game show Jeopardy!
Jeopardy! is a very unforgiving game. Clues can be about any topic on earth. There are no multiple choice questions. There is no option to phone a friend and winning entails an unerring focus on precision: You have to know the right answer. The human contestants were no ordinary contestants. They were grand champions who had amassed huge wins over many years based on their vast knowledge of the world. The company’s system wowed the world with its performance and this event was generally considered a very significant advance in the science and technology of natural language processing and artificial intelligence.
The Jeopardy! show signalled the dawn of a new kind of computing paradigm— Cognitive Computing, characterised by systems that learn with experience, that interact with humans in a manner more intuitive to humans (via speech, touch, or language), and that can be trained to excel in areas typically associated with human intelligence and requiring expertise. These systems are not programmed using declarative (if or then) rules, but trained and configured using examples. Cognitive Computing systems are playing an increasing role in our everyday lives and a perfect solution for business needs in the era of big data.
Five years have passed and today that system has advanced far beyond its question answering days. It is the most advanced cognitive computing platform in the world that includes core cognitive services ranging from deep text understanding, deep image understanding, machine learning and language processing. Today, cognitive solutions are reshaping industries and domains and scaling human expertise for professions across the board from wealth managers to oncologists to sales professionals.
I believe the defining challenge of our times is to create innovative solutions to some of the most pressing problems of the world—like healthcare and education—using Cognitive Computing.
This is particularly relevant for a developing country like India, where the need of the hour is to tackle challenges like urban transportation, healthcare and education in new and innovative ways. The opportunity is to engineer systems that learn (from examples) the unique requirements and characteristics of India and Indians and enabling expert services in a very personalised way.
Customer experience is being rapidly redefined by cognitive technologies. Today, robots with embedded cognitive technology are helping shoppers in stores in Japan. A retailer in North America provides specialised equipment for outdoor activities like camping or trekking. Fluid—a cognitive partner—developed a service called Xpress Personal Shopper (XPS) that is now deployed on the retailer’s website.
Using the XPS, customers can interact with the cognitive system using natural language dialogue to ask questions like, ‘I am going for a five-day camping trip in Utah. What gear do you recommend I need for this?’. The system can probe further and help the customer in meeting their needs in a very similar fashion to what an expert human agent in a store might do. From finding precise information about products to personalised recommendations of products, cognitive systems are redefining customer experience.
India is projected to have over 5 million developers by 2018, the largest of any nation in the world. How do we empower this force to build on the new paradigm of computing? The pressing need is for growing and ramping up expertise in the areas of machine learning and natural language processing and for platforms that enable building, training and configuring cognitive solutions easily.
There are cognitive platforms that enable developers to quickly create solutions composing services for complex technologies like deep learning, image processing, speech to text and natural language processing. Today, thousands of developers around the world and hundreds of ecosystem partners are building such solutions in many diverse fields.
As India is developing at a rapid pace, the number of people with surplus wealth is exploding. Banks and financial institutions are struggling to cater to this population with expertise to help with investment and taxation choices. Cognitive systems can help scale that expertise with advisors for investment recommendations, and bringing the massive amounts of information from financial news and investment advisory reports to the fingertips of wealth managers and investors.
We are living in exciting times. Within a short period of time, we can expect cognitive solutions to reshape and redefine our experience with many day-to-day activities through technologies that partner with humans to help us make better decisions and live our lives better.
- By Nandakishore Kambhatla, Distinguished Engineer & Senior Manager, Cognitive Technologies and Solutions, IBM Research