It looks like the beginning of a new technology hype for artificial intelligence (AI). The media has started flooding the news with product announcements, acquisitions, and investments. The story is how AI is capturing the attention of tech firm and investor giants such as Google, Microsoft, IBM. Add to that the release of the movie ‘Her’, about a man falling for his virtual assistant modeled after Apple’s Siri (think they got the idea from Big Bang Theory when Raj falls in love with Siri), and you know we have begun the journey of geek-dom going mainstream and cool. The buzz words are great too: cognitive computing, deep learning, AI2.
For those who started their careers in AI and left in disillusionment (Andrew Ng confessed to this, yet jumped back in) or data scientists today, the consensus is often that artificial intelligence is just a new fancy marketing term for good old predictive analytics. They point to the reality of Apple’s Siri to listen and respond to requests as adequate but more often frustrating. Or, IBM Watson’s win on Jeopardy as data loading and brute force programming. Their perspective, real value is the pragmatic logic of the predictive analytics we have.
But, is this fair? No.
First, let’s set aside what you heard about financial puts and takes. Don’t try to decipher the geek speak of what new AI is compared to old AI. Let’s talk about what is on the horizon that will impact your business.
New AI breaks the current rule that machines must be better than humans: they must be smarter, faster analysts, or they manufacturing things better and cheaper.
IBM launched on January 9, 2014 its first business unit in 19 years to bring Watson, the machine that beat two Jeopardy champions in 2011, to the rest of us. IBM posits that Watson is the start of a third era in computing that started with manual tabulation, progressed to programmable, and now has become cognitive. Cognitive computing listens, learns, converses, and makes recommendations based on evidence.
IBM is placing big bets and big money, $1 billion, on transforming computer interaction from tabulation and programming to deep engagement. If they succeed, our interaction with technology will truly be personal through interactions and natural conversations that are suggestive, supportive, and as Terry Jones of Kayak explained, "makes you feel good" about the experience.
There are still hurdles for IBM and organizations, such as expense, complexity, information access, coping with ambiguity and context, the supervision of learning, and the implications of suggestions that are unrecognized today. To work, the ecosystem has to be open and communal. Investment is needed beyond the platform for applications and devices to deliver on Watson value. IBM's commitment and leadership are in place. The question is if IBM and its partners can scale Watson to be something more than a complex custom solution to become a truly transformative approach to businesses and our way of life.
Forrester believes that cognitive computing has the potential to address important problems that are unmet with today’s advanced analytics solutions. Though the road ahead is unmapped, IBM has now elevated its commitment to bring cognitive computing to life through this new business unit and the help of one third of its research organization, an ecosystem of partners, and pioneer companies willing to teach their private Watsons.
Some exotica for the end of the year: Yesterday I did an interview with the French publication NouvelObservateur on Google's recent robotics acquisition Boston Dynamics. Google has been acquiring robotics companies hand over fist during 2013, and it's quite a reveal of how they are planning for the Google of tomorrow - something of interest to almost every brand. Here is my short take:
At a CIO roundtable that Forrester held recently in Sydney, I presented one of my favourite slides (originally seen in a deck from my colleague Ted Schadler) about what has happened r.e. technology since January 2007 (a little over five years ago). The slide goes like this:
Source: Forrester Research, 2012
This makes me wonder: what the next five years will hold for us? Forecasts tend to be made assuming most things remain the same – and I bet in 2007 few people saw all of these changes coming… What unforeseen changes might we see?
Will the whole concept of the enterprise disappear as barriers to entry disappear across many market segments?
Will the next generation reject the “public persona” that is typical in the Facebook generation and perhaps return to “traditional values”?
How will markets respond to the aging consumer in nearly every economy?
How will environmental concerns play out in consumer and business technology purchases and deployments?
How will the changing face of cities change consumer behaviors and demands?
Will artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and capabilities completely redefine business?
Before the clouds, webs, and distributed networks people had to create their own spaghetti of logic inside a single building using machinery that looked like props from Doctor Who. Spurred by the need to crack the ‘Enigma’ naval communication codes during the Second World War Alan Turing developed an electromechanical device called the Bombe which played a major part in defusing the war. 2012 is the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Turing and he is rightly considered to be the father of computer science and Artificial Intelligence. Turing had both a wonderful and terrible time of it and his life story is well worth a wiki.
The British genius didn’t just advance computer science using valves and wires. He is almost as famous for his thought experiments concerning how we may build machines and computers that can engage in intelligent discourse with humans. Could machine responses fool us into thinking that they were sourced from a human? To answer this question Turing developed a methodology to test the validity of the machine generated responses, fans of Science Fiction are likely to recognize this as the inspiration behind the ‘Voight-Kampff’ test administered by Deckard in Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner.’