Cognitive computing is changing the world—one industry at a time

July 30, 20184 Minute Read

In February 2011, Watson defeated the legendary Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy master who won 74 games in a row. This showdown between man and machine was both a publicity stunt and a message to the world that cognitive computing was ready for the prime time—to be used for everything from medical practice to commerce.

Six years later, and Watson has become synonymous with AI, and major companies are talking about it left and right. Even with all the buzz, it remains uncertain how many modern offices actually use the technology and how. This fact may leave you wondering: Does cognitive computing have a place in your business?

AI’s healing touch in healthcare

The first real-world application of Watson post-Jeopardy was in the health care industry. In 2013, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, IBM, and health care provider WellPoint collaborated to deploy Watson Oncology, which assisted physicians with cancer diagnoses and treatments. Since then, many healthcare partners have adopted this technology for decision support across a broad range of illnesses.

For example, the predictive capabilities of Watson can be used to improve care management within veterinary medicine. Last year, it was also involved in applications that functioned as a personal health consultant, fitness trainer, and assistant to athletes.

Helping out in hospitality

Hospitality businesses are embracing cognitive computing, too. In March 2016, Hilton and IBM announced a collaboration to pilot Connie—a robot concierge for hotels. Connie tells guests about local attractions, places to eat, and amenities they’ll love. The goal is to personalize the guest experience while also enabling hotels to process more visitor requests. According to IBM, Connie uses a combination of Watson APIs—like dialog, speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and the natural language classifier—to “interact with guests and respond to their questions in a friendly and informative manner.”

Revitalizing retail

Similarly, retail businesses are adopting cognitive technologies to provide their customers with more responsive, personalized service. North Face, for instance, leverages artificial intelligence to help people find the perfect jacket for their next adventure. It gives online shoppers access to the expertise and assistance of a trained professional in-store.

IBM isn’t the only company working on these applications for retail. A company called The Vector Institute plans to “propel Canada to the forefront of the global shift to artificial intelligence” by actively promoting AI-based economic growth. The Vector Institute has joined forces with organizations such as Shopify Inc. and Loblaw Cos. to nurture work in AI deep learning and machine learning.

Law firms’ new clerks

Lawyers have to go through mountains of data when working on cases. Using cognitive computing, law firms can enhance the efficiency and speed of legal research, analyze legal issues, and make smarter connections between materials. It can improve workflows while reducing costs, which enables legal teams to deliver better service to their clients.

A lawyer could ask, “Which of these million documents are relevant to determining if anti-competitive behaviour occurred in this specific case?” and quickly receive an answer. After all, this technology excels at mining through vast troves of data and answering questions.

AI comes to the office

AI can improve both businesses’ interactions with their customers and internal workflows. This technology holds possibilities for any modern office, regardless of industry. Robots will shape the workplace in a number of ways, whether it’s through automating certain processes (like research and customer service) or identifying areas to improve efficiency across finance, operations, and IT.

These are just a few of the many ways cognitive computing will transform business and the modern office. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 40 percent of outsourced services will leverage smart machine technologies, and 20 percent of business content will be authored by machines.

All things considered, we’re still in the early days. Organizations like Hilton and The North Face that embrace this technology are now experimenters—and they’re still figuring out how to put the technology to the best use. The industries most likely to embrace this technology are those dealing with large amounts of unstructured data, like insurance, banks, government, and education.

We’re somehow simultaneously close to implementing this technology into the average office and pretty far away from mass adoption. AI can help businesses improve efficiency, speed up workflows, reduce costs and overhead, drive performance, and deliver better service to customers, which goes to show there are many benefits, but also many reservations—like, “Can the technology be trusted? Do we want it to take away people’s jobs?” as well as barriers to implementation.

Integrating this technology is a seismic shift, and businesses don’t undergo those kinds of transformations lightly. Many are waiting to see what will happen, but in the next few years, we’ll hit a tipping point where businesses that don’t embrace cognitive computing will be left in the dust.

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