06/21/2016 05:20 EDT | Updated 06/21/2016 05:59 EDT

Humans Need To Redefine Our Relationship With Machines

The Washington Post via Getty Images
NEW YORK CITY, NY- MAY 27: IBM Watson's computer housing case. IBM's Watson computer is best known for winning Jeopardy, unaware of time constraints, while playing against humans. Some of Watson's other features are based in problem solving across many different careers. A demonstration showed how quickly Watson is able to diagnose illnesses, and provided a real life case that took doctors and nurses six days to diagnose, and only ended with the correct diagnosis because a nurse had seen the disease before. Based on symptoms input, Watson was able to correctly diagnose in minutes. The demonstration took place at IBM Watson's New York City, New York office on May 27, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Spear for The Washington Post via Getty Images.)

Humans are innately curious. We explore new hobbies, new passions, new adventures and new experiences. We crave knowledge, information and insight with the goal of improving our own condition. We do all of this with the ability to reason, understand and learn so that we can push ourselves to be better than we were yesterday.

It's time, then, that we apply this same drive to how we embrace cognitive computing.

Cognitive computing, like IBM's world-famous Watson, illuminates aspects of our world that were previously invisible, like patterns and insights in unstructured data.

These systems not only ingest this data, but they reason over it, work to understand it and then learn from the resulting interactions they have with both the data and the people they work with to provide new insights and advice. In turn, this allows us to make more informed decisions about more consequential matters.

People need to understand that cognitive computing can't do this without putting humans first. Cognitive computing systems learn at scale, reason with purpose and interact with humans naturally. But we've lost sight of this and are failing to recognize the opportunity for growth in front of us.

Where have we lost sight of this exactly? Well, a good place to start is "Artificial Intelligence." Since the term was first coined in 1955, the public perception of AI has been monopolized by Hollywood. What we see blasting across movie theater screens is a world where machines take over the human race. It's a compelling storyline, but it's just that -- a storyline.

We need to write a new storyline for cognitive computing. One that's anchored in human improvement. One where we embrace the fact that challenges of a complex world will require a combination of people and machines working together, taking advantage of the strengths of each to move toward a more productive and better world.

To do that, let's go beyond our own individual improvement and focus, instead, on that of Canada. The world our businesses and systems operate in today is, more than ever, dependent on information, knowledge and services. In fact, Gartner estimates that the world's information is expected to grow by 800 percent in the next five years. These are the currencies that leading global economies trade on and, suffice to say, our currency is falling short.

Imagine the small business that needs to better understand its customers. Previously, they would get to know customers through face-to-face interactions and information like geolocation data, web interactions and transaction history. Cognitive systems make that information more accessible and then add new details: tone, sentiment, insights to an individual's personality and even the nature of their relationships. By reasoning through structured and unstructured data, cognitive systems are helping small businesses really understand what engages a person in order to deliver greater value.

Or consider healthcare practitioners, who have an incredible opportunity to scale and elevate their expertise at a time when our healthcare system desperately needs it. Over the course of their lifetime, a person will generate one million gigabytes of health-related data, the equivalent of about 300 million books. That is an astounding amount of information that goes beyond any one person's capacity. Cognitive systems, with their ability to understand this data, can help our healthcare professionals enhance their collective expertise, while forging better relationships with patients. The end result is a more sustainable healthcare system, with better care and better outcomes.

For innovation, an area where Canada needs to pick up the pace, cognition enables new classes of products and services to sense, reason and learn about their users and the world around them. This allows for continuous improvement and adaptation, and for augmentation of their capabilities to deliver uses not previously imagined. This is a sizable opportunity for Canada's current and future business leaders to identify new opportunities for commercialization.

Cognitive computing also helps improve how businesses operate. By evaluating internal and external data, cognitive systems have heightened awareness of workflows, context and environments. This delivers predictive insights that foster continuous learning, better forecasting and increased operational effectiveness. Now, instead of just seeing the world in real-time, leaders can also predict events or outcomes before they unfold, enabling them to make quicker decisions to keep pace with the speed of data.

Finally, tying it back to our curiosity, cognitive systems will help us navigate an increasingly complex future. Data analysis lets us see patterns, opportunities and actionable hypotheses that were virtually impossible to discover before. From drug development, to complex modelling, to scientific innovation, to launching a startup, cognitive can help make these journeys, and the bets we place on them, infinitely more exciting.

The proof of cognitive systems will be found in our own progress. We will be able to measure their impact along the very same metrics we measure ourselves: return on investment, new market opportunities, diseases cured and lives saved.

At IBM, we believe it's an exciting era - one where the work of humans will become ever-more interesting, challenging and valuable. It's an era where our own intelligence will be augmented by Watson's cognitive capabilities. Working with machines, we'll ditch the hype of "man vs. machine" and instead embrace a new storyline written around the relationship between humans and the world.

Caroline Ong is the Cognitive and Analytics Lead for Global Business Services, IBM Canada.

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