IBM’s Cognitive Computing Part 1: A Sea of Information

IBM’s Cognitive Computing Part 1: A Sea of Information

Rob High of IBM Watson gave an inspired talk at last year’s Web Summit on the topic of cognitive computing. He explained how cognition systems can be used to improve our decision-making process, and as a result improve our quality of life. As Rob pointed out, there is immense opportunity for the application of such systems in our daily lives, which we will start to see in the coming years. The first part of this blog examines Rob’s talk from the Web Summit, while part two will cover the new cognitive computing applications revealed at last week’s Amplify conference.


Oceans of Data

Rob's talk, titled Democratizing Life through Cognitive Systems, revealed how we produce 44 zettabytes of data on a daily basis. That’s 2.5 billion gigabytes, or the equivalent of 650 billion Harry Potter books written every day. The sea of information is growing at an overwhelming rate, and the sheer volume of data available makes it difficult to find the information most relevant to our needs. Around 80% of this daily data is in a form of human expression i.e. text, video or audio, and these different forms further complicate our data searches. This is where cognitive computing comes in.  

Cognitive computing helps us understand the data we produce and enables us to locate specific data through efficient and effective searching. It improves our decision-making processes by providing us with the most relevant information to our circumstances and requirements. The primary value of this technology is unparalleled expertise.

Cognitive computers support a more natural interaction between human and machine. Cognitive systems learn processing behaviours via search informed self-education, and continue to evolve by experiencing new information and new scenarios, leading to new responses. Searching and locating specific data teaches the system about content relevancy, with the system using this knowledge to guide future searches. The learning process of cognitive computers is comparable to our own, albeit at an enormous scale and incredibly fast rate.   


Practical Applications

IBM Watson is a leading pioneer in this area, and first applied its cognitive capability technology to the healthcare industry. The technology assists oncologists find individualised treatment plans for cancer patients. This is done by:

  • Examining all related literature to find the very latest information applicable to their decision (from over 600k+ pieces of evidence and 2m pages of text from 42 publications)
  • Analyse the patient’s data and clinical notes against thousands of historical cases including the patient’s family
  • Apply expert clinical reasoning to the relevant information, to provide the oncologist with the best possible recommendations for individualised cancer treatment plans     

Another example Rob gave related to a project developed by a group of students from the University of Austin, Texas in conjunction with IBM Watson and the American 211 hotline, which connects the public to specific social services. Using the technology provided by IBM, the students created the CallScout app in just 12 weeks. The app allows individuals to use their device to quickly find relevant social services i.e. food banks in the area, or free healthcare programs for children.

Cognitive computing provides the requested information instantaneously. The app has access to all social services, resulting in a comprehensive database of all relevant services. The City of Austin has approved citywide introduction of the app, and the students who built it started an incorporated business to further develop the application and its features.  


Something to Think About

IBM Watson quickly realised the benefit of making this technology accessible to all and created a cognitive developer cloud distributed through Bluemix on Anybody in the world can access the technology and use it to create new opportunities in different industries and marketplaces, leading to independent innovation beneficial to all.  

There are currently 32 smart services available on the platform. These include language applications, tools for visual recognition and analysis, plus data insight programs. All services found on the Developer Cloud deal with an aspect of the human condition, offering human styles of expertise through use of human forms of expression. The cloud has proven to be a massive success, and over 77,000 developers have used it since its launch.

There may be concern that use of cognitive systems could cause us to become lazier, but it’s important to remember that this technology doesn’t think for us. Instead, it simply conducts research into our chosen subject at an incredibly fast rate and at an enormous scale. It offers us more conclusive research so we can make confident and informed decisions. The process in which cognitive systems determine what data is relevant is similar to human thinking. As Rob pointed out, because of this similarity the conclusions reached by cognitive computers are transparent, intuitively obvious and immediately useful to the individual.

Rob suggested that within five years cognitive technology will be to computing what transaction processing is today; fully integrated and assisting us in every aspect of digital interaction. This technology will:

  • Amplify human creativity and inspire new alternatives when making decisions
  • Allow access to the entirety of human knowledge in an instant
  • Learn human behaviour through formal and informal training processes
  • Interact with humans in our language and through forms we’re familiar with
  • Demonstrate unrivalled expertise and encourage confidence
  • Adapt to new and ever-changing knowledge and understanding, offering evolving strategies for success
  • Establish transformative relationships between humans and machines



With so much data produced on a daily basis, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the information most relevant to our requests. Cognitive systems combat this problem by instantaneously finding only the data we need. There are unprecedented uses for this technology, and it is of benefit to every field in every industry.

This technology is inspired by the human thought process, and evolves as it learns new information. Platforms like IBM Watson further the potential of this technology by making it free to access for all. As more people develop cognitive computing for specific tasks, it grows and learns, resulting in a more comprehensive technology able to perform a wide multitude of tasks. Cognitive computing is fast becoming an integral part of human machine interaction, helping both to evolve in ways previously unimaginable.

Remember to check back with us tomorrow for part two of this blog, which will look at some of the other industries benefiting from this technology.

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Published by Research and Markets