Cognitive technology is the future, digital is simply a platform

December 02, 2016

Dr Joanna Batstone pinpoints what makes emerging technology so disruptive, and explains why we need to become more ambitious in our disruptive efforts.

cognitive technology

Digital disruption is no longer confined to the online world – if indeed it ever was. We’ve already begun to see cognitive technology – technology able to perform what were traditionally human tasks – disrupt industries that we’ve previously considered as offline; from taxis to hotels and even door-to-door deliveries.

In order to innovate for tomorrow however, we need to stop thinking in terms of “online” and “offline”, because digital is simply a platform, and it’s “cognitive” that’s the future.

Living in the cognitive era

Throughout the age of digital disruption, we saw industries which have, until now, underestimated the impact that technology can have on their operations.

Now, we find ourselves in the “cognitive era” – an age in which cognitive technology can understand, reason, learn and interact with natural language, and is very quickly bridging the human and machine divide in industries which never expected to be digitally disrupted. 

We are seeing augmented intelligence transform industries which have traditionally had a relatively low demand to “go digital”; industries such as healthcare, natural resources, and even fashion.

The thought of partnering AI technology with a creative industry like fashion seemed a little bit sci fi just a few years ago, yet is now on our doorstep. 

Cognitive technology in healthcare

In healthcare, cognitive technology is already playing a key role in progressing the science of how we tackle the big health battles of today, such as cancer and chronic illness.

The number of Australians affected by cancer is expected to rise by almost 15% between now and 2020, and preventable chronic illnesses place a heavy burden on our health systems. It all comes down to early detection. Take skin cancers and melanomas for example; identifying the subtlest of changes in skin lesions as early as possible is key to a patient’s survival.

IBM Research is using image analytics and cognitive technology to help doctors identify these changes in dermatological images, and improve the rate of early detection.

The same logic applies to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease; the earlier we can identify at-risk patients and put them into preventative care programs, the better their quality of life; and we can also start to lessen the burden on health systems.

Disruption in creative industries

Beyond health, there are other industries ripe for disruption from cognitive technology. Governments and urban planners now count Internet of Things sensors and mobile devices amongst the tools for creating friendlier, smarter and in many ways, self-managing cities.

Even artists and designers have begun to incorporate data into their creative concepts, whether analysing past fashion trends or creating pieces that respond to digital feedback in real-time.

Embracing cognitive computing

The digital age is well and truly a given for all businesses and we must embrace this new era of cognitive computing. The emerging technologies on our doorstep – from the Internet of Things to cognitive technology to quantum computing – will make data even more powerful than it already is.

This means we need to become more ambitious in our disruptive efforts: rather than seeking to simply overturn the latest applications or digital platforms, we should focus on how to apply technology which can understand, reason, learn and interact with phenomena in the physical world, and vice versa.

Dr Joanna Batstone

Chief Technology Officer, IBM Australia 

Vice President and Lab Director, IBM Research

Read next: Joanna Batstone, discusses how scientists and business leaders can work together in disruptive partnerships.

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