Knowing Cognitive Computing

Cognitive computing is the tech industry’s latest ‘it’ thing. Not just within the Big Data world, but also outside that realm.

The virtues and drawbacks of cognitive computing are being discussed in mainstream television, newspapers, magazines and blogs, with questions like: What will it bring, what will be the effect on our jobs, and how we make decisions.

But what is cognitive computing and how can it be used in the organization? “Cognitive computing offers fundamental differences in how systems are built and interact with humans. Cognitive-based systems, such as IBM Watson, are able to build knowledge and learn, understand natural language, and reason and interact more naturally with human beings than traditional systems.”

What will you do with cognitive computing?

What can you do with cognitive computing? Or better: what will you do with cognitive computing?

Let me give two examples of how companies are using IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities:

eyeQ specializes in digital content presentation at the point of sale; they use Watson to help customers make onsite product selection decisions. Their recommendations are based on analysis of the shoppers’ age, gender, and personality based on their Twitter feed.

Sellpoints (noticed) that 69% of consumers use search engines to make purchase decisions, but they drop off rapidly with each additional step (click) in the process. By searching on intent rather than simply by keyword matching, they reduce the number of steps and thus increase sales.

In addition to the above, IBM has put Watson to use for oncology, or general health, where it helps doctors diagnose patients and propose treatment plans. It will in the near future help lawyers find applicable texts and jurisdiction for their cases. It can help you improve your customer engagements with automated self-service Question-and-Answer applications.

All these and other applications take unstructured documents, websites, blog posts, books and so on as their source base of knowledge, or corpus.

This implies that knowledge is captured from all sorts of documents in an orderly manner, and that the knowledge base should be complete, or as complete, as can be. That’s one of the reasons that cognitive products find their first use in sectors where completeness of information is necessary to be compliant. And knowledge is mostly recorded in documents. Medicine and law are good examples of these kind of sectors.

Based on this corpus of knowledge, and the processing power to know and interpret all the information at hand, Watson and other cognitive systems can give you more complete and relevant answers than a human being, or through discovery by any advanced search engine, 24/7, and almost anywhere, with an Internet connection.

At this moment, oncologists rate computer expertise between an “assistant” and a “fellow expert”. But as IBM Watson learns on the job, these ratings will improve.

Better decisions

Computers can make increasingly better decisions, often even better than humans. But, will the person allow that? According to research by the Dutch company Motivaction 75 percent want to stay in control, 20 percent will occasionally have computers decide some things and only 5 percent would leave all decisions to computers.

Only when we acknowledge that humans are fallible and cannot, by nature, know everything, we can start to benefit from this new type of computing. Experts and professionals know they don’t know everything and are struggling to get to know what they don’t know:

“The professionals don’t know what they need to know. For instance, even attorneys that specialize don’t know the majority of the laws that define their specialty, let alone all of them. At the core of the IBM Watson effort and its general analytics push is to fix that problem. The time is coming when any professional that doesn’t have access to, and knowhow to use a tool like Watson will have inadequate skills to gain employment in the developed world.”

But first, you have to be aware of the value of this knowledge for your organization. That this knowledge is constantly changing and you and your employees have to learn constantly to keep up; at the same time being aware that you still don’t know enough. When your organization is focused on adding value based on knowledge, cognitive computing will give you a competitive edge.

You don’t have to be a research institute to work with knowledge. When you’re a retailer, cognitive computing will help you understand and communicate with your customers. In oil and gas exploration, it helps companies decide where to drill. It can assist lawyers in building legal arguments and police detectives in solving cold cases. Almost all organizations today use knowledge. Using knowledge from unstructured sources in and outside the organization will open new opportunities.

Cognitive computing can provide you with an unparalleled opportunity to leverage information and learning, to both grow your profits and provide value added services.

The question is not what can cognitive computing do, but rather how will you put cognitive computing to work for you.

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