Four technologies that will change the world

On October 21 at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, Dr. John E. Kelly III, IBM Senior Vice President and Director of Research, hosted a colloquium on “Frontiers of IT,” that focused on four key technologies that will change the world: nanotechnology, exascale processing, big data and analytics, and learning systems.

Here are his opening remarks about these technologies:


Healthcare Modeling: What Is or What If?

Editor's note: Guest author Prof. William B. Rouse is Georgia Institute of Technology's Tennenbaum Institute Executive Director, co-chair of the National Academies Healthy America Initiative and member of the National Academy of Engineering.
Much of contemporary analytics focuses on tabulating and portraying characteristics of existing systems, whether they are for energy supply, health delivery or a wide range of other complex systems. This type of analytics addresses "what is" or in many cases "what was." This approach is backward looking, which makes a lot of sense if there are important lessons to learn from the past and carry forward.

There are some situations, however, where the current system is not one to be emulated.  Health delivery is one of these cases.  While medical science has steadily advanced, the delivery of health has not.  The delivery system is a federation of millions of entrepreneurs with no one in charge. Information systems are highly fragmented and rife with incompatibilities. The incentive system rewards delivery of procedures rather than health outcomes.

We need a very different system in terms of how health delivery is organized, operated, and financed. This requires that we move from "what is" to "what if" in the sense that we need to explore delivery models that do not yet exist.  We cannot rely on empirical data from systems that have not been designed and deployed.  Further, as these will be very expensive systems, we need some way to drive the future before we write the check.

Computational approaches can provide the means to this end.  What we need is interactive organizational simulations that enable key stakeholders to explore alternatives, eliminate bad ideas, and refine good ideas.  As stakeholders come from a wide range of disciplines, these simulations have to include compelling interactive visualizations that allow extensive "what if" explorations.  When stakeholders move the sliders for key model parameters and choose their own assumptions, they become increasingly committed to the shared models they are developing.

Creation of these types of capabilities requires several ingredients. First, several types of computational models must be linked, e.g., agent-based for patients, discrete-event for delivery processes, microeconomic for providers and payers, rule-based for policy, and system dynamics for exogenous phenomena.  Linking such a disparate range of models can be a substantial challenge.

Second, the parameters for component models must be gleaned from large data sets including clinical data, financial data, and claims data.  Using such data to parameterize process models, for example, can be quite difficult, as most providers and payers have not structured their data sets in terms of processes. Instead, data are organized by codes for diagnoses, procedures, and locations. This requires that processes be inferred from data sets never intended to support such inferences, which often involves filtering out special cases as well as mistakes.

Third, interactive visualizations are needed for decision makers to understand and be comfortable with computational approaches.  They need to view the computational models as a means for exploring a range of possibilities rather than as a "magic box" that produces optimal but, unfortunately, often opaque answers. This requires core competencies in interactive computing and decision support systems.

The three competencies outlined above -- computational modeling, statistical estimation, and interactive visualization -- are rarely found in one individual or even one discipline.  Multiple disciplines are needed, working as a team to tackle large-scale "what if" problems.  The Georgia Tech - IBM team is well endowed with these competencies.  Further, the computational environment being developed by IBM, namely the Smarter Planet Platform for Analysis and Simulation of Health, will enable the team to scale up from initial smaller problems to realistically complex health delivery enterprises.

Smart health is not just about doing what we now do better.  Indeed, Peter Drucker has cautioned us to never invest in improving something that you should not be doing at all.  For health, being smart means being able explore whole new ways of doing things to eliminate bad ideas and refine good ideas, so that we then invest in improving and deploying these good ideas to create quality, affordable health for everyone.
IBM announced a new research initiative with Georgia Tech, Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Cancer Coalition and the Georgia Department of Community Health to bring together the disparate factors that affect health in children, like education, socioeconomic status, access to public transportation, food resources, and more. Called One Million Healthy Children, the program is designed in a way that can be replicated in cities around the world. Atlanta is the first and the project will initially focus on the factors that affect diabetes, autism and asthma. By applying advanced modeling and analytics technology to this disparate data, scientists may be able to give healthcare practitioners a never-before-understood view of a child's health.


We won an Emmy!

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the IBM Research - Almaden Quicksilver Minds blog on Friday, October 21, 2011.

Earlier today it was announced that IBM was presented a unique award. Together with FOX, an IBM Research project born out of Almaden won an Engineering Emmy award for Innovation from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. According to the Academy, by improving the ability of media companies to capture, manage and exploit content in digital form, IBM and Fox have fundamentally changed the way that audio and video content is managed and stored.

The Linear Tape File System (LTFS), invented by IBM's lauded Research Division, enabled major improvements in digital workflow and dramatic reductions in the costs associated with capturing, storing and repurposing media content while providing dramatic improvements in transfer rates, storage density, automated workflow, meta-data capture and content availability.  Combining digital broadcast and IT standards in a broadcast environment, the LTFS has enabled real-time content recording and high-speed recovery of content to be a broadly-supported, multi-industry solution.

Michael Richmond, Brian Biskeborn, David Pease, Arnon Amir (Almaden Research), and Shinobu Fujihara (Yamato) at the 2010 NAB show where LTFS was announced and released.
In a blog post earlier this year, IBMer Tony Pearson, Master Inventor and Senior Managing Consultant for the IBM System Storage product line, wrote:

"With the capabilities of LTFS, IBM has introduced an entirely new role for tape, as an attractive high capacity, easy to use, low cost and shareable storage media. LTFS can make tape usable in a fashion like removable external disk, a giant alternative to floppy diskettes, DVD-RW and USB memory sticks with directory tree access and file-level drag-and-drop capability. LTFS can allow the for passing of information around from one system or employee to another. And as for high video storage capacity, a 1.5TB LTO-5 cartridge can hold about 50 hours of XDCAM HD video!"

Lead researcher on the project David Pease is a long time storage research expert at the Almaden lab in San Jose, CA. Pioneering many of the tape and disk storage technologies out of IBM Research over the last decade, David recalls a significant factor in deciding to pursue this project the way he did. "We really needed to make the first version open source," David said. "The idea of a file system that was cross-platform and interoperable was key; we wanted people to have an interface they were familiar with, similar to disk with file folders, drag and drop and double-click, but we also wanted to make sure it wasn't tied to only Windows or only Unix. The real future for acceptance for just about any kind of storage technology is interoperability and that people aren't tied to a platform."

David and his team developed LTFS from concept to fruition in just less than 3 years. An impressive feat in the research world, he shares some thoughts about winning an Emmy for his work:

First, I am truly stunned.  This recognition is more than we ever expected so early in the project, and hopefully it reflects the importance of what we've done.  When we started this work, we said that our goal was to change the tape industry and the Media and Entertainment business; it seems that we are well on the way to realizing these goals.

I have to point out that an idea and project like this are never the work of an individual.  From Ed Childers and the other tape experts in Tucson, to the folks at Almaden who encouraged me to get involved with tape (again), to the team of great researchers and developers who worked on this in my group, to the tape specialists in the Yamato Lab who joined my team or worked to support it, I have to say that we couldn't have gotten here without the efforts of each of you.  Thank you all for making this possible!

Fun fact: This past February, David Pease completed a 41-day motorcyle ride from San Jose, CA to Panama City, Panama with 3 companions on different stages of the trip. You can read about his travels through California, Northern, Central and Southeast Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and finally Panama at his blog here.


The Frontiers of IT

IBM Research envisions a future in which advances in technology will create a new class of systems that will go beyond capacity, speed, and complex analytics, and begin to augment human intelligence, with people as an integral and central part of the system.

On October 21, industry experts will gather at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center to explain, debate, and discuss nanotechnology, exascale processing, big data and analytics, and learning systems – or simply put, the “Frontiers of IT.”

Dario Gil, the program director of Energy Technology and Strategy at IBM Research, talks about these frontiers, and what he’s looking forward to at the event.


Smart Grids from Bornholm to Zurich

There is no doubt that electric vehicles are coming, but questions remain if the electric grid can sustain the extra load.

Here come the EVs, but are we ready?
On the low end, the Electric Power Research Institute estimates their will be 3.1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020, but without a sound distribution planning system and broader use of renewable resources, like wind and solar, the grid will struggle to meet demand.
Staying ahead of this challenge, IBM Research in Zurich is working with Swiss electric utility provider, EKZ on a pilot project using a smartphone app.  The web-based app, which also runs on tablets and computers, enables consumers to conveniently charge their electric vehicles using renewable resources, while also monitoring their energy costs. 
The app, which connects to a cloud provided by IBM, analyzes the amount of energy on the grid, current prices and demand forecasts -- it knows on a hot day that their will be a spike in demand. Using this data, the app can offer price points to consumers who can choose, based on price and need, when to charge their vehicle. The app also offers a smart charging feature whereby the user can schedule charges based on the availability of renewable resources, such as sun and wind, allowing the utility to improve load balancing and prevent outages.
IBM scientist Dieter Gantenbein who is involved in the project comments, “This service will make electric vehicles more attractive to consumers by taking into consideration their preferences, while still factoring in cost and overall convenience. In this pilot, the real-time analysis of supply and demand together with a control algorithm will create a dynamic incentive for a sustainable way to charge an electric vehicle’s battery, putting us another step closer to establishing a cleaner transport system.”

Back to Bornholm
Since 2009 the the Danish Island of Bornholm has been testing concepts to better balance wind energy with demand on the grid. The first project was called EDISON, in which 50 electric vehicles were installed on the island as storage batteries for excess wind energy on the grid. When the wind blew the cars charged, when the wind died down, the cars provided extra capacity to the grid. 
Two years later the teams learned a lot and they are have recently received further funding to extend the project into the home in a new project called EcoGrid EU. Unlike EDISON, instead of just using car batteries to balance the load the consortium is using dishwashers, heat pumps and electric water heaters to also store excess energy in 2,000 homes on the island. To participate, Danes living on the picturesque island will use smart meters and have access to a Web-based portal, similar to an online auction, where they can schedule when to purchase electricity and at what price.
Lykke Friis, the former Minister for Climate and Energy in Denmark, is a strong advocate of the intelligent electricity system. 

She comments, “EcoGrid EU is an incredibly promising pilot project, in which Bornholm will become a test island in the future intelligent electricity system. The results will not only be usable in Denmark and Europe, but all over the world. We need an intelligent electricity system which can integrate more wind power and other renewable energy sources. In order to make the set-up work in the future, it is necessary to turn all resources in regional grids into active players, exactly as it will happen in Bornholm.”

Well known as a birthplace of nanotechnology, Switzerland could easily become the next hub of knowledge about smart grids.