Once relegated to the realms of fantasy and cheesy special effects, today Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made its presence felt in various aspects of our daily lives. It’s the invisible way in which an app tells us how our favourite tennis star will fare on a grass court; it’s in the software that tells our investment managers which fund will have the best returns, and advises our doctor on what the optimum course of treatment would be based on our medical history. It’s also in the technology on our phones that recognises and “obeys” our voice commands, and gives smart aleck answers when pushed to do impossible tasks, such as make a sandwich.
Giving further insights into how cognitive systems will redefine the future of technology was Seema Kumar, Country Leader, Developer Ecosystems Group IBM India/SA, on Day 1 of TechSparks 2017. To offer some perspective on the developments in AI vis-à-vis businesses, Kumar quoted a recent global C-Suite study conducted by IBM where over 3,000 CXOs across 90 countries and 20 different industries were polled. The common theme that emerged was the impact that AI would have on their business. “About 40 percent did plan to go ahead and introduce AI into their business models, and within that you have about 11 percent who are really investing in AI, not just for today but for the future as well. About 28 percent are looking at it from a more tactical angle and what they needed to fix now,” said Kumar.
Their top concerns included how they could customise and personalise experiences for individual customers, achieve operational excellence, improve the operational model within their systems, boost employee morale and drive innovation by introducing AI into the fabric of the organisation.
“At IBM, we look at AI not just from an artificial intelligence perspective; we look at it as an end-to-end cognitive computing model and what a cognitive business really is. One of the key aspects of a cognitive business is enhancing your overall digital intelligence and working in partnership with human experts to do your work better,” said Kumar. She added that each interaction resulted in a data point which ultimately helped cognitive systems train and get better with time to work with human experts and bring differentiation to the business.
“It is not a replacement for the experts in the area. While we have moved from a programmable era into the cognitive one, we are not talking about traditional programming models. We are talking about systems that understand and learn based on certain laws. This cannot be done without relevant human expertise. Whether it is education or healthcare, a cognitive system at the end of the day needs to be trained by humans, and a lot of what human beings are good at in terms of empathy or emotion can’t be replaced,” she said. In her opinion, both machines and human expertise were here to stay. The only difference was that by allowing cognitive systems to crunch and do a lot of the repetitive work, the human brain was being freed up to be more creative.
To explain the range of capabilities offered by IBM Watson (a powerful cognitive technology developed by IBM that processes information more like a human than a computer by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning as it goes), Kumar cited a few examples of areas where AI was being leveraged in the real world by businesses.
Addressing the needs of those in the startup space Kumar said, “For those of you building your own solution, how do you know if this is for you or a large enterprise? The IT engineers in the audience today know architecture matters. Having a robust cloud native platform is important to scale, and IBM provides that end to end platform,” she said.
She added that a cognitive platform was only as good as the curated data. “As data comes from multiple sources, how do you enrich it? How do you analyse it? Ours is a single platform that helps you curate and understand your data, and on top of that you have a host of APIs with all the cognitive capabilities like speech, vision, understanding natural language.”
Finally, she introduced the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program, which has been designed to give startups access to technology usage credits, leading experts and enterprise-grade Cloud, Data, IoT, Blockchain and AI technologies to help solve real problems and ultimately help get their innovative products to market faster.