Archive for the ‘Cognitive systems’ Category

What to ask IBM Watson?

February 26, 2017 Leave a comment

On an uncharacteristically cloudy California afternoon looking out at gathering rain clouds I wondered what do IBM Watson – the artificial intelligence platform – and my favorite characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have in common?  Unlike Sherlock Holmes who was introduced to the world over 125 years ago by Sr. Arthur Conan Doyle, the world came to know about IBM Watson primarily after the TV show Jeopardy.  Today you read about IBM Watson being used in every possible vertical market – from banking to finance.  Excuse me for using the tiresome cliche “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” but to avoid exactly that let’s look at what problems are better suited for IBM Watson over others. Watson works by collecting large amounts of data (articles, blogs, tweets, research data), generating dozens of hypothesis around this data, ranking various candidates for answers and answering with the first candidate if the confidence level is high enough.

Book Illustration Depicting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a Train Cabin

Attribution: By Sidney Paget (1860-1908) (Strand Magazine) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Watson excels in Natural Language Processing (NLP).  An example of a question relevant to our times and posed in natural language would be: Is White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accurate when he states that Donald Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”

Any question that requires active learning, that uses context based search, or that uses inference chaining would be eminently suited for IBM Watson.  You could also potentially use Watson for predictive analytics, to answer a question relevant to merchandisers “Are stay at home dads more likely to buy beer when they step out to buy diapers for the infants in their care?”   A data scientist who thinks about these matters might explain that Watson has some predictive analytics capability because it uses CHi-squared Automatic Interaction Detection (CHAID) algorithms.  For now we’ll leave the why and focus on the what.

On the other hand, topics like inductive reasoning may be better suited for tools other than Watson.  What is inductive reasoning you ask? The statement “All performers want to perform before large crowds like those at Presidential inaugurations, Elton John is a performer so Elton John must want to perform at Trump’s inauguration” would be an example of deductive reasoning even if Sir Elton John would disagree with the final conclusion.

Conversely the statement: Garth Brooks is a performer, Garth Brooks “prays” for Trump, so all performers must be praying for Trump. In this statement there is no logical movement from the initial premise to the final conclusion.  This would be an example of inductive reasoning.

Just as Dr. Watson wonders how Sherlock Holmes arrives at his seemingly fantastic conclusions you might wonder what internal reasoning is used by IBM Watson to arrive at its conclusions?  The IBM WatsonPaths solution graph might give you some clues.  More on Watson on another rainy afternoon.


Musings on Cognitive systems & Artificial Intelligence

January 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Some would describe cognitive systems as systems which are not programmed, they   understand, reason and learn.  In these respects they are similar to the human brain.  Artificial intelligence which is usually associated with machine learning could be viewed as a subset of Cognitive systems

The physicist Stephen Hawking states “The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

The general thinking is that today AI is not self-aware, it has no consciousness and is far from being a sentient being.  However before you get too comfortable, consider this.  If we assume that the first step towards reaching self-awareness is to achieve “creativity” we should pause to reflect on the fact that scientists at Columbia University taught robots to paint on canvas– of the robots so trained PX18 stood out in its artistic abilities as you see here.


[Included with permission from Hod Lipson of Columbia University]

If creativity has been breached and the next step is self-awareness, consider this:  Roboticists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have built a trio of robots that were put through the classic ‘wise men puzzle’ test of self-awareness – and one of them passed.

Think about IBM Watson for a minute, Watson appeared on the TV show Jeopardy and was posed a question: “Iron fitting on the hoof of a horse or a card-dealing box in a casino.”  Watson responded with the correct answer: “What is shoe?” 

Reflect on this for a moment.  The word shoe was used as a pun, a way to confuse Watson – a pun being defined as the use of a word in an ambiguous way so as to draw parallels between two concepts.  The implication to humanity according to Thomas L Friedman (a columnist for the NY Times) is: A “Cognitive computer was faster than 2 humans in identifying a pun posed in natural language!

One of the many successors to Watson is IBM’s Watson Explorer a tool which uses natural language processing, can provide search, indexing and a 360 degree view of entities to its user.  A Japanese insurance company Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting January 2017.

So to our fearless leader who proclaimed that he would build “ a great, great wall on our southern border”  to stem the flow of manufacturing jobs,  I must break the news it is not just blue-collar jobs but also white-collar jobs that will need to refocus to ensure gainful employment for all.  Stemming the tide of technology isn’t a realistic option, it is too late to close Pandora’s box now. Cognitive systems and AI are here to stay, now the question before humanity is – How will we use them for our collective betterment?


[Engraving based on a painting by FS Church]