The ‘cognitive era’ has arrived says IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who was in Sydney yesterday to demonstrate Big Blue’s cognitive computing technology Watson.
The era marked the convergence of ‘man and machine’ according to Rometty, who predicted that within five years every business decision would be aided by cognitive systems.
IBM Watson is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data.
Ten years in the making, it’s now being used by a number of Australian businesses. KPMG Australia yesterday announced it would be introducing Watson to its audit and assurance services to “accelerate teams’ ability to analyse and act” on the “immense volumes of structured and unstructured data related to a company’s financial and non-financial information”.
Australian oil and gas giant Woodside is using the technology to analyse about 200 million pages of technical documents and reports. Engineers ask Watson questions, which returns answers based on the documents’ content. Watson’s responses are then rated by the engineers to improve the relevance and accuracy of future responses.
The use of cognitive computing will be the biggest differentiator for businesses in the coming years, Rometty said.
“Everybody in this day and age says ‘I’ve got to be a tech company’. But when everyone’s digital – who wins? I believe digital, for all the hard work of putting it into our companies, is a foundation but it’s not the destination. That one thing that I believe is more transformative is this era of cognition.
“If you’re digital today you’ll be cognitive tomorrow. There’s zero doubt in my mind.
Rometty explained that the ‘cognitive era’ required CIOs and CEOs to have a solid data strategy.
“Every industry will be disrupted again. It’s an era that begins with data but boy does it depend on organisational expertise and capability,” she said. “Be clear about the value of your data. You don’t want to give it to someone else to improve their business. You want to improve yours.”
Unlike ‘big search engines’ Rometty stressed that with Watson, companies didn’t have to give their data away.
“When you bring your data, you make them better,” she said. “Our belief is different. With Watson you bring your data, the algorithms we bring you, the insights are yours.”
Worldwide Watson is being used in a number of domains including medicine, legal, banking and wealth management.
At an IBM event in Sydney yesterday, the company shared research into the use of Watson to identify melanoma and detect warning signs related to post-traumatic stress disorder. IBM also demoed robot retail assistants, a child’s toy that could answer questions from Wikipedia and a cocktail making ‘Chef Watson’.