Disruptive technology is more than just apps

December 07, 2016

Chief Technology Officer of IBM Australia and Vice President of IBM Research, Dr Joanna Batstone, discusses how scientists and business leaders can work together in disruptive partnerships.

cognitive technology

Businesses frequently take a relatively simple view of digital disruption. In fact, it’s often not the applications that are disruptive, but the technologies and networks that power them. Rather than focusing on building the next killer app, in seeking disruptive technology, scientists and business leaders should work together and invest in the underlying technologies that change the fundamental science of how their industries operate.

Digital disruption often occurs behind the scenes, improving or streamlining the processes which define how well (or how badly) businesses and industries perform.

Apps act as simply one channel for people – whether consumers or employees – to access this disruptive technology. An “app-centric” view of disruption risks overlooking more effective ways to not only digitally transform industry practices, but also make these transformations accessible to those whom they benefit.

IoT’s disruptive technology impact

Take the Internet of Things, for example. The natural resources sector has already begun to adopt sensors, data analytics, and automation across all manner of operations, from drilling to transport and even maintenance of mining infrastructure. This disruptive technology has even percolated into not apps, but caps.

Mining3, an industry consortium made up of the CSIRO, several universities, and major mining firms, has developed a cap which monitors truck drivers’ brainwaves to detect fatigue before its deadly consequences set in.

More and more, disruptive technology comes from partnerships just like Mining3, forged between researchers and businesspeople who both seek to challenge what the status quo can deliver.

Researchers possess unique knowledge and critical faculties for tackling major industry or socio-economic issues; businesses can provide the resources, both technological and monetary, to make solutions viable on a large scale. When both parties’ goals align well, these partnerships can ensure digital disruption goes beyond the relatively trivial domain of the next social media app to catch the consumers’ fancy.

Play to your strengths

To be effective, these disruptive partnerships must play to both researchers’ and businesses’ strengths. Watson is IBM’s cognitive computing platform and a product of a collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. It can deliver surprising insights and strategic advice in almost any field – as long as it has enough data and human guidance to learn from.

When seeking to develop better treatments for cancer, doctors and research analysts, Memorial Hospital provided both: thousands of hours of training, as well as more than 12 million pages of text from more than 290 medical journals.

The more IBM Watson learns from Memorial Hospital’s expert oncologists, the more effectively Watson can help doctors spot and treat cancers, disrupting traditional methods of diagnosis and care in a way that could save countless lives. Perhaps most importantly, however, these insights and capabilities are accessible to any doctor in any licensed hospital – via a simple-to-use iPad app.

As researchers and innovators, we should focus on technologies which disrupt the fundamentals of industry and society – and an app is just the tip of the iceberg in what’s possible in this Cognitive Era.

Dr Joanna Batstone

Chief Technology Officer, IBM Australia 

Vice President and Lab Director, IBM Research

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

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