IBM – Welcome To The Cognitive Era

IBM – Welcome To The Cognitive Era

The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence

Today's discussions about artificial intelligence, robots and cognition-based solutions can be controversial. What are the opportunities and what are the risks? These questions need to be taken into account in all thematic areas. Imagine a cognitive system which, through analysis, pattern recognition and intelligently linking information on patient medical records and medical research results, could significantly aid in cancer prevention. Most would agree that this would a valued and humane undertaking.

Critics of cognitive systems pose two particular questions: Will cognitive systems cost more jobs than create them? If and when will cognitive system make decisions independent from human oversight? The first question brings up several studies with contradicting results. Taking the above example on cancer prevention tools to answer the second question: a doctor would always have to make the final assessment and the final call.

Cognitive Computing for Corporate Application

The risks of cognitive systems have to be discussed, particularly at an event like re:publica. Critical debate with real people in mind should be the guiding motto, instead of the already failed approach of undermining, rejecting and simply banning new technological advances. Some jobs might be lost to cognitive systems, but new positions will also be created - as has always happened during industrial (r)evolutions.

IBM has been investing in cognitive systems for some time and together with IBM Watson has made significant advances. Years ago we celebrated IBM Watson's victory at Jeopardy, today we are talking about implementations in diverse fields of application, including the medical field and humanoid robots. The range of application seems endless.

The Nao and Pepper robots, developed by Alderbaran in cooperation with IBM Watson, have generated a lot of attention. Using the moniker “Connie”, Nao is set for future use in Hilton Hotels to help with assisting guests. The cute robot receives continual input and learns from each interaction with people. Connie saves every question posed to it, in order to optimise and answer questions in future. Nao attended this year’s re:publica and engaged in some playful conversations.

During re:publica, our booth was manned by experts from various IBM departments, who answered questions concerning cognitive abilities and possibilities. Visitors relived the 90s with the fuzzy Furby robot. But we added a twist: the Furbys have been upgraded with IBM Bluemix and Watson services to make them even more capable – now they can speak, sing, show emotions, interact with visitors and learn new things. At the IBM booth, re:publica attendees could experience live demonstrations and developers could check out the IBM Bluexmix, Watson Sentiment Analytics and Watson Text-to-Speech API.

In addition, experts from IBM's Collaboration department were in Berlin to show how IBM integrates cognititive innovation with e-mail. In 2016, users will be able to access a personal assistant programme that can help with annoying routine tasks. IBM analyses the inbox, sorts out daily to-dos and accurately suggests next steps. An example: a customer sends an e-mail asking for reply featuring the most up-to-date information on IBM Watson's application in the medical field. The system is now intelligent enough to search out this latest information, compose a draft e-mail with the results and suggest it to the user. The user then double checks the e-mail and sends it off.

Another interesting IBM project is Toscana. Simply put, a WhatsApp for businesses. In WhatsApp-style, businesses can engage in and edit retrievable conversations. Conversations run in a secure, business conforming IT environment and are integrated in existing system, such as the IBM Connections file storage.

The goal of IBM at re:publica was to appeal to Generation E-Mail, Generation Facebook and Generation WhatsApp with appropriate products, which are provided in a secure IT environment, and integrate all channels of communication into one dashboard.

Big Data and HR

Cognitive computing was just one topic being presented by IBM at re:publica. The IBM HR Festival, featuring the motto Work 4.0, took place during the course of re:publica. HR professionals, managers and CHROs attended the festival. Attendees looked at the implementation of analytical systems in human resources departments, current research on the topic of work 4.0, as well as diversity topics. Expert speakers included Matthias Kempf (adidas) and Felicitas Lichtenberg (diversity and inclusion manage at Vodafone), HR pioneer Prof. Benedikt Hackl and Ole Wintermann (Bertelsmann Stiftung).

A particular highlight was Thomas Sattelberger's talk on “feelgood-management” and “work-life-balance” being barriers to the transition to work 4.0. Thomas Sattelberger is ex-CHRO at Deutsche Telekom, writer, political consultant and former top manager.

IBM Watson and the possibilities of cognitive systems, of course, were also present at the IBM HR Festival, for example in the Julia Altenburg (Lufthansa) talk. The technology can use data and behaviour analysis to assist in the search for new talents and improve a workforce motivation and commitment.

Together with the journalist Gunnar Sohn, we had a live video stream at the HR Festival and did some video interviews with speakers and attendees. The videos are available through this play list.

re:publica is over, however we’re happy to continue conversations with you about these topics. If you’re interested, please get in touch with IBM through Twitter, LinkedIn or email at stefan.pfeiffer at



Today's discussions about artificial intelligence, robots and cognition-based solutions can be controversial. What are the opportunities and what are the risks? Our partner IBM is debating the topic.