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IBM enlists universities for cognitive computing effort

Posted: 08 Oct 2013  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IBM  cognitive systems  super computer  communications technology 

At the Cognitive Systems Colloquium, IBM ushered in what it called the "era of cognitive computing". During the event, the company showed off 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.

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," added 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 real-time advice to human experts. Now IBM aims to generalise its cognitive computer capabilities with collaborative efforts between academic, industry and government research centres 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 realise 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 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."


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