Cognitive computing comes to Canberra

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2015 will be remembered as the year cognitive computing came to the Australian Public Service. Its potential for government agencies is huge and growing, according to the Asia-Pacific head of IBM’s Watson project.

Cognitive computing has come to the Australian Public Service this year, first in a customer service role with IP Australia and now as part of the profound transformation of the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio and its focus on expanding intelligence capabilities.

Big data is a big part of the consolidation process that is merging the traditional immigration and customs functions into a single entity to manage flows of people and things in and out of the country, with the Australian Border Force soon to emerge as its uniformed operational arm, relying on intelligence it gathers from a wide range of public and non-public sources.

The government says the ABF, which received a $50 million funding boost in yesterday’s budget, will be “intelligence-led, mobile and technology-enabled” and IBM’s Watson — a computer that can think, learn, process normal language and beat anyone at the TV quiz show Jeopardy! — has been drafted in to help with that.

DIBP first assistant secretary Randall Brugeaud made the announcement last month, a few days before he finished acting as a deputy secretary heading up the Intelligence and Capability division, a role now taken on by former Australian Geospatial-intelligence Organisation director Maria Fernandez. The former Customs chief information officer said DIBP was taking the lead and “working closely with a number of partner agencies” to see what else Watson could do in the APS.

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