Humanity has always been fascinated with the future. Imagining how futuristic science and technology will shape and change our world has always been the favorite playground of science fiction authors and Hollywood movie producers.
Science fiction author Ray Bradbury grasped this dynamic perfectly and made an interesting point about science fiction becoming science facts: “We’re trying to solve problems so that we can behave better this morning, so we can survive tomorrow afternoon… Science fiction is the art of the possible.”
Solving problems has indeed always been our greatest skill as humans; it’s what sets us apart from other species. When those problems became seemingly too complicated, we always found ways of rethinking our capabilities to overcome them.
A variety of new intelligent computing systems and smart machines continue to fulfill this promise. These systems are now tackling complex problems that would have been impossible to solve with more traditional techniques and systems.
When it comes to these types of structures, the technological advances that science fiction introduced to the world as products of the imagination are turning into reality, though in a different form. As we all know, the future doesn’t always turn out as we expect. Sometimes, the reality is even better than what we imagined.
In real life, the future will be less about C3PO, the droid programmed for etiquette and protocol from Star Wars, or Hal, 2001’s super-intelligent computer, and more about cognitive technologies that will bring huge opportunities to improve how business works and how humans and machines interact.
Regardless whether what we are witnessing now is closer to or farther from the future once imagined, one thing is certain: we are entering a new era in the history of humanity. An era that is defined by the smart machine. An era that Gartner predicts “will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”
In this new era, breakthroughs in technologies such as natural language processing, semantic analysis, automatic reasoning and machine learning will produce computers that learn, reason and interact with humans naturally. These systems will work alongside humans and possess human qualities such as emotional intelligence and common sense.
The benefits of these systems will be twofold: faster understanding of complex data streams and easier access to insights. This will help increase productivity, ultimately by helping humans better and more efficiently navigate data.
In terms of intelligent systems that understand unstructured data, reason and learn, the future is already here. Cognitive computing technologies can already assist decision making and help humans solve complex problems. Gartner predicts that “Through 2020, the smart machine era will blossom with a proliferation of contextually aware, intelligent personal assistants, smart advisors (such as IBM Watson), advanced global industrial systems and public availability of early examples of autonomous vehicles.”
Forward-thinking organisations are already pursuing the enormous opportunity that cognitive computing brings, as they see early adoption of these technologies as key to becoming leaders in their markets.
The business world will be forever changed as these systems reshape entire industries. Organisations that embrace and infuse themselves with cognitive processes can:
1. Increase productivity and perform better. They will be more effective operationally as intelligent cognitive systems enable better forecasting and decision making, thanks to a 360-degree view of the data from all business processes.
“The capabilities enabled by cognitive computing will force business leaders to rethink their operating models. While some processes may be refined, others will need to be reinvented, and others built from scratch. New skills and training will be required, such as developing the ability to design and frame appropriate challenges for cognitive systems.”
– Dr. John E. Kelly III, Senior Vice President, IBM Research
2. Deliver an improved customer experience. Imagine a smart service, customized based on the customer’s preferences: video assistants, text or voice adapted to the user’s tone of voice or emotional state or product recommendations based on the customer’s purchase history.
Customer personality analysis based on his/her social media shares and purchase cycle will help ensure businesses can connect better to their customers and offer outstanding buying experiences.
3. Build highly personalized connected objects that will accommodate their owner’s behaviour and lifestyle. Analysts predict that, by 2020, over 25 billion connected devices will be in use. Through connected sports equipment, connected toys that can serve as “teachers” for children, connected clothing, the Internet of Things is introducing new products and reshaping product lifecycles and sales models. At the same time, all these connected objects are enabling the creation of highly personalized services that will bring more value to customers than just the products themselves.
“Cognition enables new classes of products and services to sense, reason and learn about their users and the world around them.”
– Dr. John E. Kelly III, Senior Vice President, IBM Research
4. Empower employees. Highly skilled employees can learn at the “speed of data,” and sharing expertise in a certain field can be more easily accomplished with the help of cognitive technologies. This will positively affect business as employees will be able to improve their performance more quickly.
5. Analyse everything within their business and within the environment around them. Like the discovery of new galaxies, applying cognitive technologies to vast amounts of data will enable leaders to uncover patterns, opportunities and correlations that were previously impossible to find. This could lead to more accurate predictions, untapped markets or unexpected product ideas.
With all of these amazing possibilities, it is now up to us to create the future and the realities that we want to live.
If you think it’s taking us too long to get there, there’s good news: a machine that reads really fast – 800 million pages per second – has already been created.
Re-published on Forbes on January 21