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November 22, 2016

There was much excitement in Singapore when a prototype self-driving car hit the streets. Singapore residents now get to hail a ride in a car thats been talked about for years and is finally moving from science fiction to reality. Such cars, of course, are already a common sight in California, and will soon become so in other cities.

The self-driving car is one of the more visible, and newsworthy, examples of a cognitive wave thats bringing artificial intelligence (AI), or cognitive technology, into the mainstream. Its applications are extensive, and its a force that will shape our lives in the coming decade. Cognitive technology describes the confluence of a number of digital technologies with machine learning and AI, which when combined and applied, are able to mimic the human brain.164123455_525x350

Cognitive technologies allow machines to sense, think, act, and learn. This opens up many new possibilities and means that at some point in the near future many tasks that we routinely undertake will be redundant as human activities.

Sense: Until recently, computers struggled to deal with what we call unstructured data. They were capable of handling massive volumes of structured data that resided in spreadsheets and databases, but not dark data in the form of photographs, text-based messages (e.g., social media content), or audio and video content. Breakthroughs in the ability of computers to extract structured content from unstructured data enable machines to scan their environment and understand context both of which are important aspects of human intelligence. This is the first important step in the journey to cognitive systems.

Think: The second dimension is the ability of machines to think, interpret data, as well as derive insights. This is, often, referred to as reasoning intelligence. Advances in machine learning and deep learning are enabling machines to judge what constitutes normal behavior, detect anomalies, determine root causes, and provide suggestive or prescriptive recommendations.

Act: Cognitive systems, unlike pre-programmed robots, mimic human brain. Much like human experts, they combine context-awareness and reasoning abilities with skills for performing simple tasks to construct, on the fly, procedures for performing complex activities without any explicit instructions. In the context of the driverless car, this involves avoiding hazards and doing things that will improve the customers experience by perhaps changing the internal temperature, playing music, or altering the speed.

Learn: The final piece of the puzzle is the ability of a cognitive system to learn continuously, and refine its knowledge based on its real-world experience.

You can read more about some of the challenges facing companies that want to lead the cognitive wave in the latest edition of our consulting journal Perspectives, Riding the Cognitive Wave.

Dr. Harrick Vin is the Global Head of Digitate, a Tata Consultancy Services Venture. Prior to this role, he was the Vice President and Chief Scientist of the Tata Research Development and Design Centre (TRDDC) at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He was also the Global Head for Innovation and Transformation for IT Infrastructure Services at TCS. Prior to joining TCS, he was a Professor of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin for 15 years. At UT Austin, he was the founder of the Distributed Multimedia Computing Laboratory and the co-founder of the laboratory for Advanced Systems Research.


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