My scale of cognitive computing

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Last week I hosted a strategy session for my group at IBM Research and I used the following as a scale of how cognitive certain types of computing are:

Bob’s Scale of Cognitive Computing

Sentient “we can do without the humans” systems
Learning, reasoning, inferencing systems
Cognitive-enough systems
Most analytics today
“Cognitive because marketing says so” systems
Sorry, no way is this cognitive

At the top we have the systems of science fiction, be it HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, SkyNet from the Terminator series, or perhaps Isaac Asimov’s robots. Don’t expect these soon, or ever, and that might be a very good thing.

Next we have the learning, reasoning, and inferencing systems that absorb massive amounts of document data, textual data, structured data, and real time information, and either passively or actively augment human thinking and information retrieval. I think IBM’s Watson is the closest system out there to this.

Next are the “good enough” systems. If a user thinks something is cognitive, as above, is that sufficient? Here we have almost all the systems out there today which look at your calendar, weather reports, flight schedules, and so on to help you be where you need to be, getting there as efficiently as possible, with the right information to do whatever you intend to do.

This and the last category are what people today really think of as being sufficiently cognitive. Ten or fifteen years ago much of what these systems can do would have seemed miraculous, but improvements in algorithms, network bandwidth, mobile devices, social media, and general information storage and retrieval are driving the progress we’ve seen.

Next we have analytics and optimization today which are quite sophisticated but not necessary cognitive. Doing machine learning alone does not make you cognitive. In my opinion, you need strong real time processing of data to help push you over that line, for example.

Finally, we have the two questionable categories. Just because the marketing department says something is cognitive that doesn’t make so, and this has been true for thousands of other technologies and claims before. So beware false statements and promises henceforth unrealized.

Lastly, there are some things that no one with a sense of shame would dare say were cognitive (“It must be cognitive, I’m using a spreadsheet.”).

While you don’t necessarily have to be a purist, e.g., being cognitive enough may be ok, this is an important transition for the IT industry and it will be seen by users in their cars, homes, and on their mobile devices. Don’t be a cognitive wannabe, do the R&D work that makes it real.