Elementary, Watson? The next era of cognitive computing

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Cognitive computing can “think like a human”, but how does it work and what does it mean for government services?

The concept of computers thinking like humans may be long-standing fodder for the pens of science fiction writers, but the era of cognitive computing is upon us — and it’s already changing the way we work and interact with technology.

Cognitive computing doesn’t look like a “travelling cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger”, neither is it simply an extension of our current technology. Dale Potter, partner of Healthcare Transformation with IBM Watson Group, says that to truly understand what cognitive computing is, and how it will change the way we work and approach public policy, you need to understand where it comes from.

The history of cognitive computing

Back in the late 1990s, IBM set itself a challenge: could it teach a computer to apply strategy to solve a problem? It tested this hypothesis by challenging world champion chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov to a game — and won. “What we had built was a computer that was exclusively designed to play chess …”

“The story of cognitive computing started in that space in that timeframe,” said Potter. “What we had built was a computer that was exclusively designed to play chess … it did very, very well.”

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