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The business case for augmented intelligence

First in a series on the three cognitive principles

By Nancy Pearson, VP Marketing, IBM Cognitive

At the World Economic Forum recently in Davos, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty laid out three principles that are important to the future development of cognitive systems: the purpose of the technology, the need to be transparent about the use of AI and the burgeoning skills required in the cognitive era. In a series of articles we’ll explore each of these principles in more detail, starting this week with Purpose.

The purpose of any system is critical to its success. From bridges to supermarkets to pencils, it is important to define the purpose of what we design and build. So what is the purpose of our cognitive systems? To help us be more productive. As stated on the IBM THINK Blog,

“The purpose of AI and cognitive systems developed and applied by the IBM company is to augment human intelligence. Our technology, products, services and policies will be designed to enhance and extend human capability, expertise and potential. Our position is based not only on principle but also on science. Cognitive systems will not realistically attain consciousness or independent agency. Rather, they will increasingly be embedded in the processes, systems, products and services by which business and society function — all of which will and should remain within human control.”

Cognitive systems work best when they work with us, especially those that are focused on one specific task.

In the battle against cancer, Memorial Sloan Kettering has partnered with IBM Watson to “help physicians synthesize available information, and improve patient care”. The system analyzes all the latest research and makes recommendations based on individual patient data. It can do this much better than a human. The insights are passed to doctors who take the available information and make a decision for the patient.

In the legal space we see Ross Intelligence, who has developed a cognitive workbench to help lawyers analyze legal issues and find connections otherwise invisible. The system also offers other benefits of AI such as the ability to be trained and get smarter over time, continually growing the purpose they serve.

TERMINUTER is a fun example developed internally as part of our internal Cognitive Build hack. The system dials in to a conference call, sits in the background transcribing it and when you hang up supplies the meeting notes with any tasks required parsed out of the conversation. Think of the benefits this brings to a modern executive who spends a hefty chunk of their day on the phone (believe me, I know).

As useful as the system is, if no one dials into the call, there’s little it can do on its own. All these systems work in tandem with us and cannot operate autonomously. A recent McKinsey report on automation suggests that less than 5% of our jobs could be completely replaced by a machine.

So AI systems are more valuable when paired with us. But when it comes to that pairing, AI systems are opening up potential for new interfaces which allow for all kinds of new products with new purposes. Just see how differently a child learns when using a CogniToy dinosaur.

In heavy industrial applications, engineers on drilling platforms can access millions of insights by asking questions in natural language using an iPad.

These cognitive systems have one other critical difference from the artificial intelligence systems we see in science fiction. Whereas C-3PO in Star Wars could do a whole lot more than just translate languages, our cognitive systems are focused on one particular task. If you look at Alpha Modus in the financial sector, Staples in retail or Medtronic in healthcare, you couldn’t take one of these applications out of its vertical and just drop it in another.

What these stories demonstrate is the broad horizon of possibilities cognitive computing opens up, with a strong business imperative to augment our intelligence. That augmentation is helping us improve customer experience, redefine knowledge management and address some of the largest and most intractable issues our society has faced.