IBM’s Watson Challenge: Future Computing

Posted by Dr. James Canton on November 18, 2011 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

My friends at IBM research invited me and small group to the latest Watson Challenge at UC Berkeley and Stanford this week. I had a deep dive into the computing technology behind Watson and it was a exceptional.

Watson, named for the founder of IBM, was the computer that beat the World chess champ and recently became the winner over the humans on Jeopardy. Now Wellpoint the health care provider to 60,000 patients wants to hire Watson to do decision analysis.

I know what your thinking–HAL from 2001, the Matrix and Terminator’s Skynet cannot be far off. If we have Angry Birds will we have Angry Computers? This is a fair question. Luddites don’t unite just yet. There are legitimate concerns about supercomputers running our world in ways that humans do not approve of where humans are oppressed by computers. We are not there yet.

What the folks at IBM do get credit for is experimenting with inventing new ways to intelligently use data and computing to maybe, just maybe make the planet and our future a better place. Other then just making a commercial product they are making a profound contribution to computing technology but also are doing some Big Thinking about how we can use computers in health care, security, transportation and safety to better meet grand planetary challenges.

For this I give them lots of credit, willing to think big and apply computing to larger more holistic frameworks. If we are going to face the big challenges of our day and the future, Watson and computers and AI’s like Watson, who become, even evolve into true thinking machines with IDH Intelligence Different then Humans will make the difference.

Watson is a learning computer operating at 80 terabytes of power and 15 terabytes of memory. What makes Watson interesting is not the techno data but the combination of machine learning, natural language processing and reasoning programming. Watson is the beginning of a new more powerful era of thinking machines.

Is Watson a true AI, an artificial intelligence I asked the IBM team, is “he” capable do you think one day of self-awareness? maybe even consciousness? They don’t think Watson now or in the future will achieve self-awareness and after the deep dive into the technology behind Watson I agree.

AI, once known as the fifth generation of computing project ran into many barriers over the past 30 year of computing. Theoretically AI, thinking machines are possible and likely but not based on the still rudimentary computer tools we have today.

What future does Watson point to? Intuitive computing based on nanoscience-based computer chips, software that is genetic-inspired, Cloud Computing networks, quantum information systems and synthetic biology when mashed up will offer new hardware, software and computing ontologies that will transform the future of computing.

So real AI, that can advise us and invent new solutions for a planet in conflict dealing with poverty, explosive population, war, climate change and business requires a new computing model well beyond where we can can envision today. Are we there yet? No but we are on the way.

The exploration of evolutionary biology, as a computing platform is a direction I am interesting in exploring. Computers that use GA and GP, genetic programming and algo’s may hold the key to future computers.
Computing that is based on network cloud deployed anywhere AI, cloud based intelligence, with a personality, now that is coming.

If we are really going to make a better world we need next gen tools like Watson to help us get there. When Watson builds the next Watson then we will perhaps discover a new generation of post-human computing, built by computers that can help the humans figure this all out.
Stay tuned.

Meeting Future Global Challenges: Women, Leaders and Big Ideas?

Posted by Dr. James Canton on November 3, 2011 under Uncategorized | Read the First Comment

Recently I gave a talk at the International Women’s Forum in Washington DC, just near the White House. I don’t think I have been surrounded by so many dynamic, smart and educated women from around the world, 35 nations. This was an impressive and epic event well crafted where men were the minority in the room. This event brought together innovators from the Arab Spring, corporations, scientists, health economists, Ambassadors and diplomats to discuss balance and power on the planet. Human rights, innovation, freedom and prosperity were common themes. I learned a lot.

I gave a talk about the tech and science innovations coming in the future. I challenged my audience to use these tools–nano, bio, neuro, quantum, IT to make a better future–better health care, climate management, security, education, water and poverty management. I came away thinking these are the dynamic women who could shape the future, actually these 500 women from all over the world could do it.

The truly remarkable reality that exasperates the current economic crisis is we are all held captive by a lack of future visions; an absence of Innovative Big Ideas not being put forth by our global leaders. And those that should lead do not have and the courage to act on those few visions they do have. This obvious absence of leadership is a huge galaxy killing black hole that is the primary challenge facing our civilization: if we do not learn fast enough and come to understand the complexity of the challenges we have created so that we may find enduring solutions, we will encounter a clouded if not dismal future.

The list of complicated challenges demanding a future global vision includes: forging a sustainable global economic model that balances, growth and social responsibility; managed climate change; secure and affordable energy and affordable health care. My focus has been and I believe that investments in science and technology will play a large role in addressing global challenges of the 21st and 22nd century–but not without our leaders embracing the courage and the visions to apply these innovation tools.

The battle for the future is being played out now by our global leaders. Our economic models are in conflict. Our managing great challenges like water, climate change, health care cost containment, innovating in science and technology for making a better world is essential to our future. The economic uncertainty that will continue for some time will be a drag on the very investments in the future that may solve some of the large problems of our time.

The crisis in global leadership I would bet will be met by corporate leaders. Top talent from IBM, Cisco, Apple, Philips, GE and numerous emerging nation high tech start ups especially run by women will change the game. The leaders of the future may be dominated by women who will have the smarts, collaboration skills, tech savvy and maybe the Big Ideas that are needed to shape the future of the world for the better. I am betting on them.

Clash of Civilizations: The Connected Economy & the Battle for the Future

Posted by Dr. James Canton on under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

This moment in time is historically quite bizarre. Perhaps the deep pessimism that pervades the European mindset is that secretly they love the vision of a dystopian future and soon perhaps this will actually become realized. Then the critics of American positivism can be right after all as the EU brings down the global economy. I don’t think that is going to happen but then this futurist is a Yank.

The current conflict in the EU, with Greece threatening to spread their contagion of economic unsustainable finances and bring down the rest of the EU, if not the world is, in a Connected Economy actually today possible. This is the irony of the Connected Economy–connected for good or worse. The US has not dodged the bullet fully here but has experimented with bailouts already and headed off further financial contagion for now.

One of two scenarios will play out. Greece will accept the bailout package and basically push off the fiscal responsibility (with the EU cheering on) to future generations, hoping that growth in GDP and productivity will outpace their debt. This is magical thinking as Greece has no productive industrial sector and has no plan to invest in one like in the US, Germany or England. This of course is not a fix to put off the payment of debt and forgive some, but institutional denial of the inevitable, downgrading of Greece, then the EU as well or the prelude to either a Greek default or a downgrade of Greek status as a full EU member is the second scenario which is more real-politic but not likely.

As I wrote about in my book the Extreme Future, all markets, asset classes and economies are linked via globalization and technology in a one huge global network topology is like a Internet network, chaotic yet linked in various and intimate interconnected ways. Most experts could not agree on the various types of interconnections that have created this accelerating connectivity. I am grappling with this concept in my next book.

The Connected Economy is a recognition that validates when Greece falters on accepting the bailout deal as they did, the EU central bank reacts and cuts rates, the US Federal Reserve goes with a gloomy forecast, the US and Asia stock markets decline, MF Global with its sovereign EU exposure files for Chapter 11, major banks and securities worldwide lose billions in value all happening in ONE 24 hour period. If anyone does not believe the Connected Economy is real, they must have missed the last 15 years. Notice I did not evaluate or judge this phenomena as being good or bad for the global or sovereign economies, which is still very much a mixed bag to be analyzed later.

This is simply not an intelligent path to creating a sustainable global future for the EU or the world. Everyone knows it. Putting off to the next generations our problems because we have not the courage or intelligence to fix them now, is a recipe for more chaos. I cannot fathom our children approving of our cowardice in the future.

What kind of future do we want? One in which we deal with crises as a global commons with leaders telling citizens the truth and working to manage the future or to persist with the same old tired ideas and paradigms of the past? This is the strategic issue that faces business, society and individuals–what is our Connected Future going to look like?

The key issue of course is about the clash of civilizations: two vastly different models of the future based on different models of economics. The free enterprise capitalist and innovation based consumer economy versus the social welfare state of entitlements economy are as different as day and night. The free enterprise economy is driven by growth from consumer spending, innovation, investments in technology and business. Social entitlements such as education, health care, retirement and jobs represent a radically different model of incentives, competition, innovation and society.

How does this clash of civilizations play out? Well, what economic and social paradigms will create a better future is my question. Is growth and productivity as a panacea even possible long term in social welfare economies? I don’t think so. Is rogue capitalism that serves special interests better? I don’t think so. A balance of models including social accountability and free enterprise can and must be crafted for the future prosperity and security of the planet.

James Canton