Smart Machines

Smart Machines: IBM's Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing

JOHN E. KELLY
STEVE HAMM
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 160
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/kell16856
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  • Book Info
    Smart Machines
    Book Description:

    We are entering a new frontier in the evolution of computing: the era of cognitive systems. The victory of IBM's Watson on the television quiz show Jeopardy! signaled the advent of this new era, revealing how scientists and engineers at IBM and elsewhere are pushing the boundaries of science and technology to create machines that sense, learn, reason, and interact with people in new ways.

    In Smart Machines, John E. Kelly III, director of IBM Research, and Steve Hamm, a writer at IBM and a former business and technology journalist, introduce the fascinating world of "cognitive systems" to general audiences and provide a window into the future of computing. Cognitive systems promise to penetrate complexity and assist people and organizations in better decision making. They can help doctors better diagnose and treat patients, augment the ways we see, anticipate major weather events, and contribute to smarter urban planning. Kelly and Hamm's comprehensive perspective describes this technology inside and out, and their extensive knowledge illuminates the difficulty of harnessing and understanding "big data," one of the major computing challenges facing technicians in the coming decades. Absorbing and impassioned, their book will inspire governments, academics, and the global tech industry to work together to power this exciting wave in innovation.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53727-8
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
    John E. Kelly III
  4. 1 A NEW ERA OF COMPUTING
    (pp. 1-22)

    IBM’s Watson computer created a sensation when it bested two past grand champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Tens of millions of people suddenly understood how “smart” a computer could be. This was no mere parlor trick; the scientists who designed Watson built upon decades of research in the fields of artificial intelligence and natural-language processing and produced a series of breakthroughs. Their ingenuity made it possible for a system to excel at a game that requires both encyclopedic knowledge and lightning-quick recall. In preparation for the match, the machine ingested millions of pages of information. On the TV...

  5. 2 BUILDING LEARNING SYSTEMS
    (pp. 23-42)

    In November 2009, when IBM’s Watson was under development for its showdown on Jeopardy!, the machine made one laughable mistake after another in test matches. In one particularly funny instance, it was prompted to identify what the “Al” in the company name Alcoa stands for. It fired back, “What is Al Capone?” Everybody in the room cracked up. The machine had confused the first two letters of aluminum with the name of a famous gangster.¹

    No harm was done. One of the main purposes of these training sessions was for Watson to make mistakes so that the scientists on the...

  6. 3 HANDLING BIG DATA
    (pp. 43-68)

    The global financial crisis of 2008 had many causes, but, boiled down to the essentials, it comes to this: Institutions and individuals didn’t fully appreciate the risks they were taking. Lenders issued high-risk home loans and securitized them without performing enough due diligence. Investment banks packaged and resold them in ways that obscured the underlying risks. Credit-rating agencies gave the securities their seal of approval. Investors around the globe snapped them up. Government regulators failed to spot flaws in the system.¹

    The crisis was a failure of information. Though institutions and individuals had access to immense quantities of data about...

  7. 4 AUGMENTING OUR SENSES
    (pp. 69-86)

    Watson’s performance on Jeopardy! was remarkable. The machine searched through millions of pages of information for possible answers and came up with solutions in about three seconds. But Watson was only searching one kind of data—textual information. All Watson could do is read and reason. But what if it possessed machine equivalents of all of the human senses. What if it could see, hear, touch, taste, and smell?

    These new capabilities are crucial because of the explosion of new kinds of data. The rapid growth of low-cost sensors makes it possible to monitor everything from leaks in water systems,...

  8. 5 DESIGNING DATA-CENTRIC COMPUTERS
    (pp. 87-100)

    All most people know about Watson’s hardware is what they saw on TV: the machine’s cool, purple façade, the avatar that stood between the human contestants on Jeopardy! and Watson’s quirky robotic voice. But there’s more to the machine than its TV persona. If you were to take a tour inside the original Watson computer at the IBM Research lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., you’d better understand what made its performance on Jeopardy! possible—and why computers must be redesigned for the new era of cognitive computing.

    The computer takes up a corner of a datacenter on the lab’s second...

  9. 6 INVENTING A NEW PHYSICS OF COMPUTING
    (pp. 101-116)

    More than other single technology, the microchip has driven the tremendous improvements in computing performance over the past sixty-plus years in everything from personal computing to consumer electronics to space exploration. Every two years, scientists develop techniques for putting twice as many transistors on a tiny chip of silicon, doubling the chip’s capacity for storing or processing information. The microchip is arguably the most essential technology of the information age. Unfortunately, this rocket ship’s ascent is slowing, and it’s in danger of falling back toward earth. With each passing year, the expected performance gains become harder to achieve. And now...

  10. 7 IMAGINING THE COGNITIVE CITY
    (pp. 117-136)

    After a fire broke out in a building visible from Yankee Stadium during the 1977 World Series, broadcaster Howard Cosell captured the zeitgeist of that moment in New York City’s history with the on-air comment, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning.”¹ New York had fallen into a decline from which many people worried it would never recover. The city was near bankruptcy. Corporations had fled to the suburbs. Crime was rampant. A couple of years earlier, a sanitation workers’ strike had left fetid mounds of garbage bags piled on the streets. It was a city where nothing seemed to...

  11. CODA: AN ALLIANCE OF HUMAN AND MACHINE
    (pp. 137-140)

    Ever since Watson won at Jeopardy!, people have been asking the research scientists who designed the machine if they’d like to try to pass the so-called Turing test. That’s an exercise suggested by computing pioneer Alan Turing in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” where he raised the question: “Can machines think?” He suggested that to test whether a machine can think, a human judge should have a written conversation via computer screen and keyboard with another human and a computer. If the judge couldn’t tell the human from the machine based on their responses, the machine would have...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 141-148)