Watson, IBM’s powerful and multi-faceted cognitive computing system which was once best known for beating humans at the game show Jeopardy, has grown into a powerhouse of a problem-solving tool for doctors, scientists and business leaders. Thought leaders in the high performance computing arena will gather to hear insights about Watson’s evolving applications as well as what kind of computing comes next at the upcoming SC16 conference [the premier international conference showcasing high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis] keynote by Dr. Katharine Frase in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 15, 2006.
“The capabilities of cognitive computing are game-changing, and I don’t mean a TV game show,” said Frase, who recently led strategy and business development for IBM’s Watson Education unit. Her keynote titled “Cognitive Computing: How can we accelerate human decision making, creativity and innovation using techniques from Watson and beyond?” will cross many disciplines and cover topics that are very relatable to the average consumer.
According to Frase, cognitive computing is about a new relationship between systems and humans, one in which higher-level thinking, research and decision making results from systems that learn, and systems that can give advice. She further added that cognitive computing has crossed the threshold of a new era; one in which we get to not just revel in the facts of processing power and increased computing capacity and capability, but also unleash that transformational power on some of the most complex and multidimensional problems faced by humanity.
“Watson and cognitive computing in general can serve significantly in every single arena in which we grapple with multi-layered, data-intensive problems: how to best treat cancers; how to adapt to conditions brought about by climate change; how to quickly and effectively harness new kinds of sustainable energy; how to untangle intractable governmental or community development challenges,” Frase stated. “Now more than ever, visionary thinking will drive an endless and transformative array of applications for Watson and cognitive computing in general, along with whatever comes next.”
She elaborated that Watson is no single tool, but rather a set of multilayered, interconnected and deep computational systems that work together and act very much like a human brain. Instead of being programmed by humans to generate specific kinds of answers in predictable conditions, Watson instead “learns” everything there is to know about a topic or a specific field by digesting input data, and using what it knows to make predictions in addition to providing reasoning behind each prediction. A practitioner can then study that data to make the ultimate best decision.
Watson can incorporate almost any kind of information, from studies and data sets to news reports, in all kinds of formats including “natural language.” Watson not only suggests solutions to the problems posed to it, but also includes measurements of the evidence behind a given solution and predictions about how likely the solution is to be successful based on what it has been taught about the problem.
According to Frase, cognitive computing is uniquely helpful for complex and multidimensional problems with many variables and massive amounts of relevant information. For example, oncologists need to read many hours a week if they hope to stay current with all cancer research and studies being published each day, week and month, but Watson is a voracious reader and can process 500 gigabytes—the equivalent of a million books per second—into its decision-making calculus.
“Perhaps the most exciting thing about Watson is its ability to make hypotheses without the effect of any of the unconscious burdens of human bias that we know can creep into extremely complex decisions, like cancer treatment,” she said. “We are learning more every day about cancers and their unique biomarkers and ways to target treatment, but being able to incorporate those new discoveries quickly into the actual treatment scenarios is beyond exciting for everyone involved, from patients, to doctors, to researchers, not to mention those of us who have helped to develop and deploy these cognitive computing frameworks,” Frase said.