"Smart Machines" Preview

IBM Senior Vice President and Research Director Dr. John E. Kelly III and IBM writer Steve Hamm have authored a book, Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, which will be published by Columbia University Press this fall. The book presents a comprehensive perspective on the future of technology and calls for government, academia and the global tech industry to help power this coming wave of innovation.

Steve answered a few questions about the book and its focus on cognitive computing in a recent interview, below. You can also read a free sample chapter at Columbia University Press.

IBM Research: What is the era of cognitive computing?

Steve Hamm
Steve: John and other leaders at IBM believe that we’re on the cusp of a new era in computing. Scientists at IBM and elsewhere are creating machines that sense, learn, reason and interact with people in new ways. These machines will help people penetrate complexity and make better decisions.

You can think of a cognitive system as a truly intelligent assistant that helps individuals live and work more successfully, and that helps organizations become more efficient and effective. The implications are huge for individuals, businesses and society as a whole. With these technologies, we will be able to make the world work better and more sustainably.

IBM Research: Why write a book now?

Steve: The idea that we’re entering a new era of computing emerged over the past couple of years. It began when a small group of IBM Research scientists engaged in the mental exercise of envisioning how computing would evolve over the next century. They realized that, because of recent and anticipated advances in science and technology, computers of the future would be fundamentally different than the machines that evolved since the 1940s. But revolutions don’t happen on a timetable. You need a forcing function to get things going.

So the idea behind the book is to stimulate new thinking within industry and academia. Just as importantly, we hope to inspire university and high school students to pursue studies and careers in science, technology and mathematics. Amazing progress has been made in computing, but we believe a lot of effort by a lot of people and organizations will be needed for the era of cognitive computing to come on strong.

IBM Research: John Kelly will be talking about the era of cognitive systems at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley next Tuesday. How can people find out what he says?

Steve: Anybody who wants to can attend the fireside chat between John and museum director John Hollar. The museum will later post a video of the conversation on their YouTube channel a couple of days later. In addition, we’ll have coverage at IBM's Research homepage and the Smarter Planet blog.

Steve Hamm is a communications strategist and writer at IBM. Previously, he was a journalist for 30 years, most recently at BusinessWeek magazine. He has authored two books, Bangalore Tiger, about the rise of the Indian tech industry, and The Race for Perfect, about innovation in mobile computing; and co-authored Making the World Work Better, which IBM published in connection with its centennial.

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