IBM brings in academic superstars to move cognitive computing beyond Watson

IBM’s famous Watson system kicked butt on Jeopardy! and is already making a name for itself in the health care space but it’s not yet good enough. That’s why IBM is teaming with MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, New York University and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on a research initiative it hopes will advance the state of the art in what IBM calls “cognitive computing.”

A system like Watson is great at understanding the fields and data on which it’s trained, “But much additional research is needed to identify the systems, architectures and process technologies to support a new computing model that enables systems and people to work together across any domain of expertise,” IBM Research’s Zachary Lemnios said in a press release announcing the pact.

For fun, a tuned-down Watson schooling GigaOM's Stacey Higginbotham in 2011.
For fun, a tuned-down Watson schooling GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham in 2011.

Here’s where each university involved will focus its research:

– MIT – How socio-technical tools and applications can boost the collective performance of moderate-sized groups of humans engaged in collaborative tasks such as decision making.

– RPI – How advances in processing power, data availability, and algorithmic techniques can enable the practical application of a variety of artificial intelligence techniques.

– CMU – How systems should be architected to support intelligent, natural interaction with all kinds of information in support of complex human tasks.

– NYU – How deep learning is impacting many areas of science where automated pattern recognition is essential.

None of this work is occurring in a vacuum, though. There are plenty of university researchers and large companies working on areas such as deep learning and human-computer interaction, for example, and IBM itself has been working on systems that operate more like a human brain.

Computer scientists and futurists have been talking about artificial intelligence and similar concepts for decades, but we’re at a point now where we have enough data and computing power — and a better understanding of how to take advantage of them — to make some significant strides. HAL or Skynet won’t materialize anytime soon, and we probably won’t be full-on cyborgs a decade from now, but a world of driverless cars, medical breakthroughs, and a litany of intelligent connected devices and wearable technologies still sounds pretty cool.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user agsandrew.