IBM ushered in what it called the "era of cognitive computing" yesterday at the Cognitive Systems Colloquium (CSC) held at IBM Research (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.).
At the event, IBM unveiled its newly minted Cognitive Systems Institute, a collaborative effort between universities, research institutes, and IBM clients to advance the state-of-the-art in cognitive computing, starting with four major universities: Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), New York University (NYU), and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
As part of this new era of cognitive computing, we wanted to make an announcement today about our Cognitive Systems Institute, which will involve four key universities," said Jim Spohrer, director of global university programs at IBM Research (Almaden, Calif.) in an exclusive interview with EETimes.
IBM's long history in building computers that can mimic the cognitive functions of humans began with its Deep Blue platform, which beat then reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. More recently, IBM's Watson cluster supercomputer beat the human champions -- Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings -- on the television quiz show Jeopardy in 2011.
"After IBM's Watson won on the game show Jeopardy, many universities contacted us saying they would love to work with us on this new era of cognitive computing, and today we are glad to announce we are scaling up our activities in this area," said Spohrer.
IBM has already applied its Watson cognitive computer to applications in healthcare and financial services, where it combines deep database searchers and intelligent pattern matching algorithms that provide realtime advise to human experts. Now IBM aims to generalize its cognitive computer capabilities with collaborative efforts between academic, industry and government research centers whose joint goal is to create cognitive computers that use natural language and brain-emulating algorithms to augment human intelligence in all areas of endeavor.
"Something big is happening in cognitive computing. It’s much bigger than Watson. We're here today because this is bigger than us. It's bigger than the IBM company," said John Kelly III, director of IBM Research at CSC. "The first eras of computing were about automating human tasks. This era is fundamentally different. This era will be about scaling and magnifying human capability. The separation between man and machine will blur. The synergy between the two will shine through."
IBM already works with thousands of universities worldwide, but its new Cognitive Systems Institute will enlist the help of particular universities to develop specific capabilities needed to realize a smarter more user-friendly type of cognitive computer. The four universities initially joining the Institute will receive funding this year to be followed next year by shared university research awards to include Power architecture servers running a Watson open-source software stack.
The MIT team, led by professor Thomas Malone, will concentrate on developing what it calls socio-technical tools and applications that boost the performance of groups of workers engaged in collaborative tasks, such as decision making. By more closely connecting people and computers the MIT effort will aim for combined man-machine performance that is more intelligent than any person, group of computer can achieve alone.
"As the world becomes more interconnected through the use of communications technology, it may become useful to view all the people and computers as part of a single global brain," said Malone at CSC. "It's possible that the survival of our species will depend on combining human and machine intelligence to make choices that are not just smart but are also wise."
The RPI team, led by professor Selmer Bringsjord, will explore artificial intelligence techniques that take advantage of recent IBM advances in processing power, data availability, and "smart" algorithms including "semantic" data tools.
The CMU team, led by professor Eric Nyberg, will concentrate on the rapid construction, optimization, and real-time adaptation of large collections of analytic components, such as personalized information agents that directly interact with users.
The NYU team, led by Paul Horn, senior vice provost for research at New York University, will develop automated pattern recognition algorithms that reflect how deep learning using neural networks can impact science.
Our view is that these new cognitive systems will accelerate progress immensely. Up until now we have been using cognitive shovels, but these new tools will be like cognitive bulldozers, enabling us to do a lot more in terms of decision support systems that augment human performance. And from the global university perspective they will also have profound implications regarding the ways we teach. Just as the calculator changed how students did math problems, cognitive computers will transform higher education.
IBM's Watson cluster supercomputer beat the human champions on the television quiz show Jeopardy.
In addition to expanding the capabilities of IBM's Watson, several other cognitive computing initiatives also fall under the umbrella of the Cognitive Systems Institute, including IBM's attempts to build computer chips modeled on the human brain -- the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).