#Tech4Good in the cognitive era

Image credit: Doing good in the cognitive era (IBM)

Applying information technology for the greater good is not a new concept. DataKind has been around since 2011, and the Social Good Hub at SXSW is in its fourth year. However, an interesting inflection point is drawing near as technology begins to take a quantum leap in societal impact at the same time that humanity is facing profound global challenges. Consider, for example, Star Trek-like advances in 3D-printed food that might help stem growing world hunger.

While such technologies still have a ways to go before they can feed the world’s population, there is burgeoning interest in the ways that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies could help address society’s most pressing concerns, as well as the ethical considerations of applying these advanced resources. As evidence of the intensifying focus, several significant conferences this year are focused specifically on AI for Social Good — one hosted by the Computing Community Consortium and one co-hosted by XPrize and ITU (International Telecommunications Union). Major corporations and universities are also partnering to study and establish ethical practices around AI technologies.

It really all boils down to how technology can help improve our quality of life. Technology advances throughout history, such as the typewriter, the automobile, the refrigerator, the mobile phone, have been invented to solve a problem that humanity faced. Now, as global issues become increasingly complex and interconnected, one of the greatest challenges involved in addressing them is the proliferation of data. Even the greatest minds are experiencing information overload as they work on solutions. Cognitive technology — which leverages AI capabilities to enhance human intelligence — is uniquely suited to help with these challenges. From finding patterns and interconnections within massive amounts of data to providing local, personalized diagnosis and predictive models that learn and improve over time, cognitive computing is rapidly advancing our ability to tackle these problems.

To learn more, we recently spoke with more than 60 pioneers who are applying cognitive technology in key areas such as social services, the environment, education and public safety. Whether enabling case workers to focus more on human interactions instead of mountains of data, or helping public safety officers respond to emergencies faster and more effectively, one pattern was evident — the combination of human and machine intelligence is leading to better solutions for tackling society’s challenges than one or the other could deliver alone. As one of these experts put it, with cognitive technology, “1+1=3”.

Imagine if you had an active child who is very bright but not doing very well at school, where he is required to sit for long periods of time looking at a blackboard and listening to lectures. What if you could send your child to a class where he would learn by playing games instead? One high school in Austin, Texas is doing just that. Students in a computer science class created a “Medical Minecraft” game where players fly through the human body and interact with a cognitive system to gain the knowledge needed to combat pathogens they encounter and progress through the game. This type of immersive learning experience can both motivate and enable students to grasp complex subjects like infectious disease.

Or, what if your family lived in city so affected by air pollution that your young child gets excited just to see a blue sky because it means that he will be able to play outside that day? It’s a reality for many cities in China where air pollution is a major concern. Cognitive technology is not only helping the government take more targeted mitigation actions, but it’s also helping citizens plan their lives better because they’ll know whether the air quality will be good the next day.

Read more about doing good in the cognitive era: ibm.co/2nMY2ai