Imagine you are into the agricultural sector and want to better the prospects of your farming practices. What if an app in your smartphone could predict the future conditions of weather and market, availability of amount of irrigation water, and at the same time suggest which particular variety of crop will give maximum production in a given land or soil condition?
Or let’s assume the administrative managers of a city want to have an integrated view of the region’s overall performance on the priority areas relevant to the city. This could be grievance management (for instance, in a crisis situation like last year’s Chennai floods), operational or financial performance. What if an ‘intelligent operations centre’ allowed them to explore key priority areas in depth and take actions from the solutions provided?
Getting more personal, let’s say you’re in the mood to use never-before-seen ingredient combinations to create some unique dishes, and a cognitive web app helps you do just that, apart from letting you discover solutions to help with everyday mealtime challenges in creative ways? Or, you just tell an app how you’re feeling and choose your mood, bar type, and favourite base ingredient, and based on these parameters, the app immediately suggests the best ingredients possible to help you create a delicious new drink?
Welcome to the world of ‘cognitive technology’, or ‘Watson’, in global tech major IBM’s case — the ambitious, multi-billion dollar bet on artificial intelligence (AI) and the new frontier that every major tech giant, from Amazon to Google to Microsoft, is racing to explore.
IBM, however, insists that Watson is more than just AI, and prefers to use the term ‘cognitive’ when referring to Watson’s capabilities. Unlike conventional computers, which have to be programmed, Watson understands the world in the way that humans do: through senses, learning and experience, but at a speed no human can match. Just to give you a pointer — it can read more than 800 million pages per second, as per reports.
“We see this digital revolution that is going on globally across industries and geographies culminating in ‘cognitive technology’ as a destination that lets you take advantage of the data coming out of this digital transformation… Whether you are in finance, healthcare, agriculture, fashion or retail, if you need to make sense of the data or understand it, and reason about it to deliver value, then ‘cognitive technology’ is what it is all about,” says Sriram Raghavan, director – research, IBM India/south Asia. Raghavan was present at an event, ‘India Onward: Scaling Digital India’, held in New Delhi recently – the sixth such programme hosted by IBM as part of a one-month tour of the country.
“The whole cognitive business is about combining digital business and digital intelligence. So when we’re saying that a company is becoming cognitive, it’s basically trying to adapt whatever it was doing with digital technology along with cognitive solutions such as IBM’s Watson. For example, currently, every organisation has IT platforms that are programmed and in which the output is known and expected. However, cognitive solutions are ‘trained’. So we’re moving from systems that are programmed to systems that are ‘trained’. That’s a big shift,” says Prativa Mohapatra, vice-president, cognitive solutions, IBM India/ south Asia.
“This cognitive platform understands, reasons, learns and interacts like humans. This is not ‘artificial intelligence’ but ‘augmented intelligence’. Cognitive technology is not just about AI – but AI combined with machine learning, and beyond,” says Mohapatra, adding: “Watson is at the core of this cognitive initiative.”
Unsurprisingly, India plays a key part in IBM’s plans, both as potential market and talent pool. The Tamil Nadu government has already teamed up with IBM to arm itself with IT tools to tackle weather-related calamities, post its experience with last year’s devastating floods. As part of the initiative, the state will establish an innovative, cloud-based ‘intelligent operations centre’ to ensure it can respond better to disruptive, extreme weather events, with the help of IBM.
Manipal Hospitals, across six locations in its network, has adopted IBM’s ‘Watson for Oncology’, a cognitive platform, to help physicians identify options for individualised, evidence-based cancer care across India.
Globally, Watson first shot to fame in 2011 when it beat two human champions in the quiz show, Jeopardy. More recently, it assisted Grammy-winning music producer Alex Da Kid in creating a song called It’s Not Easy, which was released recently.