Are You Ready to Become a “Cognitive Business?”

As organizations evolve to meet modern-day digital business demands, AI-based technologies such as machine learning are making rapid inroads.

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IBM and IDG Content

In its early days, artificial intelligence’s (AI) overly ambitious project visions overtook delivery common sense—and AI missed the mark. But over the past 25 years, AI researchers in university and corporate labs have made significant strides. The result: the emergence—and accelerating adoption—of varied AI-enabled technologies by companies seeking to digitally transform and differentiate both their business models and their day-to-day operations.

The hard realities of today’s real-time, digitally driven business environments, in fact, are quickly making cognitive technology adoption more of a requirement than a choice. AI-based technologies such as pattern recognition, machine learning, and natural language processing deliver critical capabilities that often surpass the abilities of human workers. For example, security analysts can’t hope to sort through terabytes of daily network traffic to identify potential cyber threats, but cognitive-enabled solutions excel at this task.

With a variety of AI-based technologies now permeating the business world, a new label – “cognitive” – has begun to take hold. “Cognitive computing” refers to the application of one or more of the core AI technologies to address specific business needs. A “cognitive business” has adopted these technologies to help make better business decisions, remain competitive, and/or become more innovative.

“Being a cognitive business means you have achieved a level of mastery in the techniques and have the ability to use them across your business to focus on better outcomes,” explains Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz, research leader at the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV).

Cognitive as a Disruptor

Cognitive computing has certainly caught the attention of executives around the globe – at least among those at high-performing companies. In 2016, IBM’s IBV unit surveyed more than 6,000 C-suite executives worldwide and found that 81% of those with above-average revenue growth and operational efficiencies expected cognitive technologies to disrupt their industries during the next three years. Tellingly, only 36% of the financial underperformers said the same.

A key takeaway from the IBV survey: Those companies already outperforming their peers not only recognized the impact cognitive computing will have, but intended to become the disruptors, rather than the disrupted. Indeed, 88% of the high-performers said cognitive technologies would play an important role in the future of their organizations, compared to just 41% of the financial underperformers.

A growing number of cognitive services are cloud-native and open source, allowing users to quickly scale up environments with access to massive computing power and storage capacities some emerging solutions require. Regardless of the delivery method, however, cognitive technologies are such game-changers, and their potential applications are so diverse, that many companies need help determining how to best leverage them.

Recognizing this need, IBM has partnered with MIT to democratize algorithms and prevent bias. Together the two organizations have pledged to “pursue an agenda of advancing shared prosperity through AI to achieve broad economic and societal benefits for the largest number of people,” according to IBM. Some of the issues the two organizations will address together include:

  • Creating AI systems that can detect and mitigate human biases
  • Building trustworthiness and explainability into AI systems
  • Ensuring AI systems complement worker skills that might be in short supply
  • Exploring how productivity gains will be distributed across firms, workers, and consumers.

IBM intends to build on the Principles for the Cognitive Era laid out earlier this year, as well as its work as a founding member of the Partnership on AI, a consortium that focuses on guiding the development of AI to the benefit of society. “As the creators of this technology, we take responsibility for ensuring that it is developed the right way and for the right reasons,” according to IBM.

Decades after AI first captured the imaginations of IT professionals and business executives alike, cognitive technologies have begun to deliver on their commercial promise in a big way. The power of these technologies will rapidly become recognized – and required – as cognitive businesses disrupt the competitive landscape.

Click here to learn more about IBM’s cognitive computing solutions and thought leadership.