The second cognitive revolution is upon us

Tony Poulos
30 Jun 2016

At the first Asia ICT Innovation Forum held in Singapore recently, a slew of international thought leaders spoke on their views on “Building a Better Connected World”. Not surprisingly, the core issues were around connectivity and how to get internet access to the billions still not connected.

But this was balanced by a number of speakers stressing the importance of data analysis and the move to cognitive systems to get the best out of being connected.Getting value from big chunks of data has delivered companies like Facebook, Google, Uber and Airbnb massive valuations – they understand how to turn data into value and traditional companies are starting to figure that out also.

Alan Marcus, Head of ICT Agenda at the World Economic Forum (WEF), focused his presentation on the value of Big Data and moving from IT to DT (Data Technology). He prefaced his talk by stating that the WEF believes we are entering the fourth industrial revolution – the convergence of technologies that build upon the digital revolution.

The first breakthrough was the cognitive revolution that occurred over 70,000 years ago when homo sapiens started storytelling, which bound groups together and passed on information. The second was the agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago, where essential grains (still grown today) were domesticated and farmed. Third was the first industrial revolution that started in the 17th century and led to the development of the steam engine, the rediscovery of cement, breakthroughs in chemistry and metallurgy, the mechanical loom and the creation of factories and steamships.

Then, between 1870 and 1914, occurred the second industrial revolution that comprised the basic components of the modern world including electricity generation and distribution; the light bulb; the internal combustion engine; electromagnetic spectrum; and the gas turbine.

Around 1960 began the third industrial revolution – or digital revolution – that created entirely new capabilities around computing, digitization, commerce, social relationships and the way we work. All these revolutions occurred because they were new systems that made things better, generally.

Global leaders are becoming increasingly concerned about the growing technology gap that includes gaps in knowledge preventing the stakeholders from grasping the opportunities afforded to them by the fourth industrial revolution:an era of technologies that include 3D printing capable of reproducing a human heart; cognitive computers that think using artificial intelligence and deep machine learning allowing for things like autonomous vehicles and robotic assistants.

The era of cognitive Internet of Things was taken on most enthusiastically by Tim Greisinger from IBM, who said we were seeing a new cognitive revolution where machines with artificial intelligence are becoming capable of cognitive thinking.

Cognitive IoT systems involve the capture of structured data from devices and create insights and intelligence from that data, but with the interaction of human thinking and human logic with the devices.

The term “cognitive” itself covers three main areas: the understanding and comprehension of voice by listening, reasoning, and learning from experience and adapting accordingly. The combination of data from sensors, observations and cognitive systems can now predict things like hypoglycemic events in diabetics three hours in advance.

Cognitive technology is not just about teaching machines to think like humans or act more human. IBM believes that cognitive systems using natural language processing and machine learning will enable people and machines to interact more naturally to extend and magnify human expertise and cognition. These systems will learn and interact to provide expert assistance to scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals in a fraction of the time it now takes.

Cognitive systems will forever change the way people interact with computing systems to help people extend their expertise across any domain of knowledge and make complex decisions. However, none of this will be possible without involving and processing extraordinary volumes of fast-moving big data – and it is then we will see the true potential of big data put to practical use.

This may well lead us to the second cognitive revolution - some 70,000 years after the first.

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