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Canadians are happy to carry on using cumbersome, awkward computer systems for the time being, it seems. A recent report from IDC said that Canadians will tinker with cognitive computing next year, but will avoid mainstream adoption until 2020.

Cognitive computing promises to change the way that we deal with computers. Driven by artificial intelligence algorithms, it gives computers new capabilities when interacting with people.

Most cognitive computing research revolves around machine learning, which is a form of artificial intelligence now gaining commercial traction. Often associated with analytics, machine learning has many different applications. It uses statistical techniques to ‘train’ software based on what it has seen before. Machines process data over time and look for patterns that make them better at given tasks.

Machine learning is typically used to make software applications that can perform human tasks. These range from finding patterns in data through to recognizing images and even writing articles. Advances in processing power, combined with the acceleration of natural language processing, are creating computers that can interact with people in more human-like ways.

“It’s been a brand that IBM has built specifically around Watson,” said James Haight, an analyst at boutique market research firm Blue Hill Research. He’s referring to the IBM supercomputer that won the Jeopardy quiz show against human components in 2011.

IBM is now pitching Watson and other applications, such as healthcare diagnostics. It’s feasible to expect cognitive computing interfaces in some contact centre applications, and even to replace first-line physician care for basic diagnostics in the future. In the office, we may see cognitive applications automatically booking calendar appointments or calling taxis in the years to come.

We are already seeing some cognitive capabilities in consumer-focused digital assistants, such as Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Echo device. But we still in the early days of enterprise adoption.

“I am not seeing any rollouts. I am told that there are a number of them. I am seeing people evaluating,” said Haight.

If and when cognitive computing does get a foothold in the enterprise, it could change the way that we handle everything from customer service through to logistical planning. But Canada has to step up to the plate and experiment with it first. We could be waiting a while.



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