IBM Hosts “Cognitive Computing” Panel to Discuss Power of Supercomputers

On Tuesday, June 18th, IBM Research hosted a presentation and panel discussion on the Hill with House Representatives on cognitive computing. According to IBM Research, cognitive computing systems include “systems that learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either man or machine could do on their own.” Essentially, these systems help human experts make better decisions by allowing them to better sift through big data. Cognitive computing systems, or supercomputers, are not programmed to perform functions; rather, “they use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms to sense, predict and, in some ways, think.” These systems can draw their own insight from big data. The goal is not necessarily to be the expert, but rather to better aid the human expert by penetrating big data they otherwise cannot.

IBM Research Vice President David McQueeney demonstrated the power of supercomputing through a weather cleanup example. Trees have very predictable growth patterns, and supercomputers can easily sift through tree data in a given location. If a powerful storm such as Hurricane Sandy were to damage an area, for instance, cognitive computing systems could help cities predict which areas will need crews to rebuild power lines based on the tree data. These systems could save millions of dollars for cities. Currently, IBM’s own supercomputer IBM Watson can sift through 1.5 million patient records and give doctors treatment options in seconds (see the power of the IBM Watson below).

One of the panelists, Dr. Selmer Bringsjord, chair of the Department of Cognitive Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), also emphasized the importance of funding for cognitive computing systems for national security purposes. “China is now running the world’s most powerful supercomputer, and that can have dangerous consequences given the importance of supercomputing for national defense.”

There are countless ways cognitive computing can improve society, whether it be better predicting weather cleanups or helping doctors diagnose diseases. Dr. Selmer Bringsjord believes “the brain is existing proof of the power of supercomputing,” and that “it should inspire new engineering strategies.” While the High Performance Computing Act was passed in 2004, Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2013 has not gone to the Senate floor.


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