Is Malaysia ready for cognitive computing?
By Lum Ka Kay January 13, 2016
- Watson redefines the relationship between man and machine
- It’s here for real, and organisations need to explore it to remain competitive
IBM Watson has truly landed on Malaysian shores, with Hong Leong Bank (HLB) being the first Malaysian organisation to leverage on its cognitive computing technology to boost its customer experience.
But what is cognitive computing? The technical explanation: Cognitive computing is the simulation of humans through processes, in a computerised model. It involves self-learning systems that use data mining, pattern recognition, and natural language to mimic the way the human brain works.
IBM Malaysia managing director Chong Chye Neo (pic above) notes that IBM isn’t the only company talking about cognitive computing.
“Cognitive computing isn’t something that IBM alone is talking about – a lot of other companies are talking about it, including [analyst firms] Gartner and IDC.
“However, the difference is that IBM is a company that has invested in cognitive computing over the last 10 years, starting research on Watson in 2005. … We’ve been developing Watson and I think we are ready to use it in a commercial way,” she says in a conversation with Digital News Asia (DNA) in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Chong says that many Malaysian organisations had already heard of Watson when it was made commercially available a few years back.
“They came to us and asked how they could leverage on Watson,” she adds.
‘Why am I not using Watson?’
Watson can be tailored to serve various sectors including the banking, healthcare, legal, and even hospitality industries.
“Every customer is different, and they want to focus on different things. But what would attract these customers are success stories,” says Chong.
“Not many people are interested in the theoretical part of Watson, but they are in what kind of help Watson can provide them – success stories are the best examples for these people,” she adds.
Citing one of IBM’s major clients, DBS Bank in Singapore, as an example, she says, “The point here is when DBS – or in the Malaysian context, Hong Leong Bank – starts to use Watson, other players in the industry will ask: Why am I not using Watson?”
Thus, when asked if Malaysia was ready for such technology, Chong says there isn’t really a choice for Malaysian organisations if they want to stay competitive.
“I don’t think they have a choice. Today, data and information are giving people a lot of advantage; and in this borderless world, you will lose out if you don’t have such access.
“How can you aspire to be successful then? You won’t be.
“So we don’t really have a choice because there is a chance for you to leverage on such technology, and if you choose not to, it’s going to be your loss,” she argues.
Watson = Artificial Intelligence?
So is Watson an Artificial Intelligence (AI)? To Chong, Watson is a new way for human to interact with computers, and she prefers to describe it as ‘cognitive intelligence.’
“It’s more than that. To us, AI has been here for quite some time. So the question here is, is such intelligence still artificial?
“To me, it’s a new way of interacting with computers. In the past, we dealt with data by putting them into a database. But today, we have a lot of unstructured data like weather, a picture or a video.
“Watson has the capability to decipher, evaluate, and analyse such unstructured data.
“So we don’t call it artificial intelligence anymore, we prefer to call it cognitive intelligence,” she adds.
Having said that, Chong maintains that Watson will not be contributing to a ‘Skynet’ future – Skynet being the AI that runs amok in the Terminator series of movies – as it is a cognitive learning system that still requires human intervention.
“The information Watson gets comes from human beings. Watson’s intelligence comes from data.
“Human beings have to constantly intervene to update Watson’s database. Say for cancer research, IBM brings in world-class oncologists to work with Watson – the oncologists key in their findings and data.
“It is a cognitive learning system, and human beings are the ones teaching Watson,” she adds.
But Chong also argues that Watson redefines the relationship between man and machine.
“We’re all very excited about Watson, we think that Watson isn’t just a computer, it’s revolutionary. Watson will drastically change the way people deal with data.
“This makes IBM a company that just doesn’t produce products, but a company that is also able to change the lives of many people,” she declares.
Enough about Watson’s strengths, what about its limitations?
To this, Chong claims she has yet to see any shortcoming in Watson.
“Even though IBM started research on Watson a long time ago, it is only in the last few years that it has been commercialised. We’re still at the beginning, so I have yet to see any of its limitations.
“Just as how we human beings have gone through evolution, Watson may evolve to something else. But we’re still at the beginning of this journey and I have yet to see the horizon or the end of it,” she adds.
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