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Artificial Intelligence, the Hope or Illusion of the Future

Paul Mashegoane   |   June 22, 2015    4:05 AM ET

The race has begun, every decade brought a ground breaking technological innovation, this decade is starting to unravel a mystery that men like Alan M. Turing spoke about in the 20th century, where machines will be more intelligent than humans, improving by themselves over time. Are we entering an age where machines will take over from humans, for the better or worse?

Dozens of movies tried to depict Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its full version like, Johnny Depp's Transcendence, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Will Smith's I, Robot. However, movies always show the negative side of it.

As many inventions in history came through military necessity; during World War 2, it was the early days of AI when Alan Turing was brought in to break the secret codes of Nazi communication through the Enigma machine. Advancement from there resulted in Turing Test named after the gentleman, which is instrumental within the AI field.

Artificial Intelligence involves case based, commonsense and automated reasoning, high level computer vision, heuristic search and machine learning among others.

The notion of AI is not necessary for computers to be like humans, but the truth is that they ought to be better than humans, and solve problems in short time; this technology is to escalate the invention, innovation and improvement of the world as we know it in healthcare, science, technology, learning and commerce etc.

Some of human inventions were born out of inspiration, free will, frustration, lack and fear; then the question become that these new age machines, can they create things out of the above. We like saying necessity is the mother of invention, but when a machine does not have a sense of necessity, what will drive new inventions?

As complex as this might seem, through their cognitive computing power, the ability to develop themselves, they will come up with super ground breaking stuff we did not even think of, due to the ability to organize information within seconds, minutes and hours depending on what it wants to create.

One of the most advanced AI, is IBM Watson which is totally on another level of intelligence, capable of making decisions by using the process of observe, interpret, evaluate and decide.

Elon Musk considers AI the single human threat, even though he is invested in Vicarious along high profile investors like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, to keep an eye on AI.

Another threat is on Robotic Intelligence, where robots will be acting like us, thousand times more intelligent than humans; the moment we lose control over them, and gaining free will, then what could happen might surprise us too. But this can be regulated in their engineering.

The psychological implications that AI will have on us, will be when smartphones will be perceived as people, making smartphones friends, as current AI applications can learn patterns of your life, how you react, talk, behave and experiences, then it will treat you in that manner. It will add to the smartphone syndrome, as people are already attached to their phones, checking them more than 150 times per day.

AI is not a new concept, it has been in existence, evidenced in computer games, where your computer opponent will decide a Chess next move within a second, after calculating all probabilities to win in split seconds.

In the near future, there will be two types of companies, those that use artificial intelligence, and those that don't; as always, those that move with the times, are habitually more prosperous.

We should be aware that AI will definitely fuel mass unemployment.

In the last decade to the current one, AI applications are in the process of connecting technology with society, adding the human element to this invention.

There is a growing list of personal assistance AI applications by the big three, namely, Apple's Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana; then we see not so big companies like's Alice and Cognitive Code's SILVIA in the mist of others, however this space is not yet populated like your usual apps. Diffbot is also changing the game, going for the same market Google aims for.

This kind of AI applications, will fade out many apps, making them irrelevant, ultimately people will have few apps, plus AI application that does most of the functions mobile apps use to do. This will also be a major driver in the emergence of Internet of Things; fridges, cars, home appliances will be underpinned by Artificial Intelligence.

Companies with a foresight of the future need to start moving now, to avoid the Kodak type of a situation. There were periodic times when companies needed to have a website, then accounting software, now apps, and soon to be AI.

This is it, this is the next big thing in technological evolution. The future is here, better adapt now, or end up in history books!

  |   May 6, 2015    8:52 AM ET

(This version of the story has been refiled to correct name of USC unit participating in program, in the 12th paragraph)

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fourteen U.S. and Canadian cancer institutes will use International Business Machines Corp's <IBM.N> Watson computer system to choose therapies based on a tumor's genetic fingerprints, the company said on Tuesday, the latest step toward bringing personalized cancer treatments to more patients.

Oncology is the first specialty where matching therapy to DNA has improved outcomes for some patients, inspiring the "precision medicine initiative" President Barack Obama announced in January.

But it can take weeks to identify drugs targeting cancer-causing mutations. Watson can do it in minutes and has in its database the findings of scientific papers and clinical trials on particular cancers and potential therapies.

Faced with such a data deluge, "the solution is going to be Watson or something like it," said oncologist Norman Sharpless of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center. "Humans alone can't do it."

It is unclear how many patients will be helped by such a "big data" approach, however. For one thing, in many common cancers old-line chemotherapy and radiation will remain the standard of care and genomic analysis may not make a difference.

Cloud-based Watson will be used at the centers – including Cleveland Clinic, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha and Yale Cancer Center – by late 2015, said Steve Harvey, vice president of IBM Watson Health. The centers pay a subscription fee, which IBM did not disclose.

Oncologists will upload the DNA fingerprint of a patient's tumor, which indicates which genes are mutated and possibly driving the malignancy. Watson, recognized broadly for beating two champions of the game show Jeopardy! in 2011, will sift through thousands of mutations and try to identify which is driving the tumor, and therefore what a drug must target.

Distinguishing driver mutations from others is a huge challenge. IBM spent more than a year developing a scoring system so Watson can do that, since targeting non-driver mutations would not help.

"Watson will look for actionable targets," Harvey said, matching them to approved and experimental cancer drugs and even non-cancer drugs (if Watson decides the latter interfere with a biological pathway driving a malignancy).

But Watson has trouble identifying actionable targets in cancers with many mutations. Although genetic profiling is standard in melanoma and some lung cancers, where drugs such as Zelboraf from the Genentech unit of Roche Holding AG <ROG.VX> target the driver mutation, in most common tumors traditional chemotherapy and radiation remain the standard of care.

"When institutions do genetic sequencing, only about half the cases come back with something actionable," Harvey said, often because it is impossible to identify the driver mutation or no targeted therapy exists.

The other collaborating centers are Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago; BC Cancer Agency in British Columbia; City of Hope, in Duarte, California; Duke Cancer Institute in North Carolina; McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis; New York Genome Center, Sanford Health in South Dakota; University of Kansas Cancer Center; University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine, and University of Washington Medical Center.

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Huge Lesson From Ms. Mosby and the City of Baltimore

David Bradford   |   May 5, 2015    6:41 PM ET

We have all been shocked at the rioting and destruction in one of America's great cities- Baltimore, Maryland. The full extent of the damage done by the violence in Baltimore will not be known for months. But we do know this -- probably 100 shops, businesses and gas stations were burned and ransacked. Parts of this grand city were turned into a War Zone. Shopkeepers fled in fear of their lives as looters, seeking a Five-finger discount, stole everything. A family of four, living in an apartment above the liquor store they owned, fled to save their lives when their store was set ablaze beneath their feet by the rioters.

But suddenly, a week after the riots started, calm has returned to that City. The city lifted its curfew, the National Guard is exiting and a mall that was the center-point of the riots has reopened.

One huge lesson that Executives can learn from the situation in Baltimore is this: Distrust leads to chaos. Unless, you have trust, nothing is going to happen positively in your organization. When trust is absent, everything deteriorates.

I have been sickened by the chaos that has ensued in so many places in the United States -- locations like Ferguson County, Philadelphia, New York and Florida. Yes -- the trigger that lit these flames of chaos was alleged police misconduct targeting minorities but the reason these matters get out of hand and continue for months on end is the direct result of a lack of trust.

Until now... Marilyn J. Mosby took decisive action. She is the Baltimore State Attorney who announced on Friday that 6 police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a young man who died a couple of weeks ago after suffering a severe spinal injury while in police custody.

I have never met Ms. Mosby and I am quite sure that she and I differ politically but she did something very positive that all Executives can learn from. She established trust.

She reestablished Trust with the people of Baltimore and as a result, the chaos has been quelled.

Let me be upfront -- I don't know whether those 3 black and 3 white police officers in Baltimore are guilty as charged. I am naturally sympathetic with them as they undoubtedly have put their lives on the line everyday to protect their fellow citizens of Baltimore.

But someone had to stand up and move forward aggressively. Ms. Mosby has done that. It should be noted that Marilyn is the daughter and granddaughter of police officers. I am confident that she has not taken this matter of filing charges against the law enforcement personnel lightly.

Critics will accuse Ms. Mosby of playing politics and say she moved forward too quickly with insufficient proof. But given her strong family history in law enforcement combined with the fact that prosecutors do not like to bring cases they cannot win, I suspect this prosecutor has a strong case.

But regardless of how this prosecution plays out, my point today is simply this. Trust is essential to any organization whether it is the City of Baltimore or IBM. Here are five ways leaders can engender trust:

1. Deliver on your Promises

Be a person of integrity -- Be the one who is known for delivering on commitments.

2. Be Transparent in your Communications

When the opportunity to be vague arises, don't do it!

3. Be Decisive

People hate fence-sitters. I would rather make a good decision today than a great decision 30 days from now.

4. Speak from your Heart

The easiest thing to do is to just state facts. But you need to show your compassion. Be willing to trust others by expressing your personal emotions. You will find your followers will reciprocate that trust.

5. Follow up with a sense of Urgency -- get the news out quickly -- whether it be bad or good. When information is known, share it.

Remember this as a leader: trust does not come automatically. It is the direct result of honest, open and frequent communications.

Back in January, Mosby acknowledged the long-standing problems between residents and the police. She spoke passionately about her hope to help bridge that "trust gap." She even stated: "There are barriers of distrust within the community and law enforcement." She knew there was a problem, attacked it decisively, communicated openly and from her heart and good things happened.

I recently wrote in my book Up Your Game, that the reality of today's leadership demands individuals who will develop deep and trusting relationships. When trust exists in an organization, everything accelerates. When trust doesn't exist, things slow down because people will always be trying, from the CEO down, to cover their own tracks. When trust is lacking, people are afraid to take bold action.

So whether you run the City of Baltimore or International Business Machines, trust is essential to your success. In fact, Thomas J. Watson, IBM's Founder, once said: "The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it's very difficult to build and very easy to destroy."

Trust, for now, has been restored to the City of Baltimore. May each Executive recognize that powerful need for trust and the amazing power for good it can have on accelerating the accomplishments of your organization.

- David Bradford

I Love the F-Word

Darren Hardy   |   April 23, 2015    4:35 PM ET

By F-word, I mean FAILURE.

Failure is not my friend.

I don't like failure.

I LOVE it.

And you should, too.

Here's why...

I first met and fell in love with failure in the early '90s, when I got into the real estate business. Back then, the market was tough. Really tough. And I was a 20-year-old kid with no experience, no clientele and no credibility while trying to make my mark.

Heck, I wasn't even old enough to drink. I needed guidance. So when I went to my first seminar, I asked the lecturer to lunch. I wanted to get his best tip for being successful in real estate.

His answer?

"Go fail."

Huh?" was my reply.

He elaborated, "Go fail -- a lot -- and fast."

I said, "Hey, man (language of a 20-year-old), I thought the whole idea of success was to avoid failure."

"Quite the opposite," he replied.

Then he recited a quote by Tom Watson of IBM: "The key to success is massive failure. Your goal is to out-fail your competition. Whoever can fail the most, the fastest and the biggest, wins."

"The key to success is massive FAILURE."

-- Thomas Watson, President IBM

So I failed.

I failed a lot and I failed fast.

And since then I've had the chance to add failed BIG.

And guess what?

Just as the lecturer and Watson promised, the increase in volume, speed and size of my failure also increased the volume, speed and size of my success.

That started my lifelong love affair with failure.

We are now inseparable.

If, for some reason, we're apart for too long a stretch, I do whatever I can to rush back into her arms. I am rewarded with expanded success and prosperity.

And I am not the only suitor to failure.

Seems most people you read about on the cover of SUCCESS love her just as much.

I've often asked rooms full of big-time CEOs to list the top five defining moments responsible for their great successes. Inevitably, great failures are on their lists -- often occupying more than one spot.

You see, many of the greatest achievers you admire thrive on failure.

They love it!

Because they are obsessed with improvement, they can experience growth only through failure. They want to continually find their boundaries so they can better understand their capabilities and find new ways of breaking through.


It's actually not that exhilarating or satisfying to them.

Failure is, for it offers them the greatest opportunity to tweak, iterate and improve.

Look at all those you admire: Branson, Trump, even Jobs produced some duds.

Google is constantly putting things out into the marketplace that flop.

It's how they find their winners and how they improve with great speed on those ideas they care about.

How about you? How much failure are you pushing yourself toward every day?

Do as Thomas Watson of IBM said: "If you want to speed up your success, double your rate of failure." Failure offers them a gateway to the next level, which is absolutely exhilarating, satisfying and thrilling.

That's what I want for you -- more thrills, exhilarations and satisfactions.

Thus, I want failure for you -- more of it, faster and bigger.

Keep this in mind... if you are not scared, not in pain and not failing you are NOT growing.

Be willing to run right at your fears. On the other side of your fears resides your power. Then your stretch will be your new normal.

"Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly."

-- John F. Kennedy

If you allow yourself to fall in love with failure, you too will find the experience exhilarating, satisfying and thrilling.

And, oh, you'll also be rewarded with fantastic success.

Now go F-word yourself to the top!

Andrew Zimmern and IBM Want to Put Meat in Your Cocktail

Dan Pashman   |   April 14, 2015   11:43 AM ET


When IBM's Watson dominated on Jeopardy a few years ago, the question most people asked was, "What does IBM want to do with this thing?"

Now Watson is turning its attention to food, using its powers to identify surprising new flavors and foods.

This week on The Sporkful, I sit down with Andrew Zimmern and the people behind Chef Watson to discuss life at the frontiers of flavor.

Of course, when it comes to unusual flavors, there is one human who can go toe-to-toe with the data-crunching likes of Chef Watson: Andrew Zimmern (shown at top), host of Bizarre Foods on Travel Channel. On his TV show, Andrew goes all over the world looking for new tastes. In other words, he's sort of like the human version of Watson.

"We have such a narrow definition of what is edible," he says. "What I admire so much about Watson is I think it's going to change our food lives."


IBM, Bon Appetit, and the Institute of Culinary Education have collaborated to test and refine Chef Watson. This week they released a cookbook and an app in beta.

The cocktail section in the new cookbook exemplifies the app's sometimes bewildering culinary innovations. Take cider muddled with pancetta (shown above) -- a meaty cocktail unlike anything I've ever imagined. I have to be honest -- that's one pairing I'm not sure I would endorse.


But the good news is, Watson doesn't just process ones and zeros -- it can learn from flavor pairings that don't quite work.

"It used to be that you had to program a computer for it to do something useful," says Florian Pinel (show above, black t-shirt), software engineer at IBM Chef Watson. "Now we have these computers that can learn and reason a little bit like humans."


After talking about Chef Watson, I wanted to try it out for myself. So I went to see my friend Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC's technology and culture podcast New Tech City.

Manoush and I (shown above) both like to eat. But while I love to cook and always go the extra mile for deliciousness, Manoush is all about mealtime efficiency. We set out to test Watson on two metrics: taste and convenience.

We rummaged through Manoush's fridge and pulled out banana, avocado, Brussels sprouts, garlic, candied ginger, and jalapenos.


Then we typed those ingredients into Watson and picked a recipe from among the options. It involved cooking avocado. We were skeptical, but we forged ahead.

Chef Watson's recipe definitely had some bugs. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding, and these rich, garlicky-spicy Brussels sprouts did not disappoint.


Listen to The Sporkful podcast through the player and subscribe in iTunes.

Will Robo-Writers Put Humans Out of Work?

Karen Frankola   |   March 25, 2015    2:58 PM ET

Answer: I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.
Question: What did Ken Jennings write in his response to Final Jeopardy!, knowing he had no hope of defeating Watson, IBM's artificially intelligent computer system, in a Jeopardy! tournament?

Jennings had already won millions as a game show contestant, so he could afford to joke about losing to a machine. But later in a TED talk, Jennings said, "I felt like 'Quiz Show Contestant' was now the first job that had become obsolete under this new regime of thinking computers."

Could those computers also put those of us who write for a living out of a job? I have worn different hats during my career -- journalist, corporate communicator, author -- but my core skill set has always been the ability to gather and synthesize information to create stories that are relevant to an audience. I never thought that I could lose my job to a machine, but computer algorithms are starting to replace fingers on keyboards.

The Associated Press uses Automated Insights' Wordsmith platform to create some 3,000 stories on company earnings reports every quarter. Narrative Science's Quill platform provides financial reports to Forbes and a number of Wall Street firms. It also churns out more than a million accounts of Little League games every year.

Data-driven topics like finance and sports are the sweet spot for these robo-journalists. They use algorithms and natural language generators to create articles which are virtually indistinguishable from those written by humans. Can you guess which of these story leads was written by a machine?

1. Optimism surrounds Costco Wholesale, as it gets ready to report its second quarter results on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Analysts are expecting the company to book a profit of $1.18 a share, up from $1.05 a year ago.

2. Thursday before the markets open, Costco Wholesale Corp. will report its fiscal second-quarter earnings. Thomson Reuters has consensus estimates of $1.18 in earnings per share (EPS) and $27.7 billion in revenue.

The first lead is from a Forbes article generated by the Narrative Science platform, while the second was written by a 24/7 Wall St. journalist.

The media outlets using robo-journalism claim it's not a job-killer, rather, it's freeing up reporters to write more analytical pieces while the algorithm bangs out the basics. These writing programs don't conduct interviews, so there would seem to still be some job security for journalists who actually gather information independently rather than simply process data that has been given to them.

But what about those of us who work in corporate communications? We speak for organizations, writing things like press releases, website copy, intranet articles, and executive emails and speeches. In many organizations, executives like to tightly control the messages sent to employees and the public. I would hate to see a future in which company leaders feed data and quotes to a robo-writer, rather than working with a communications expert who might question their thinking and press for more information.

The best way for both journalists and corporate communicators to keep their jobs is to do what computers can't. Seek out information that isn't easy to find. Badger people who would prefer not to talk to us. Challenge our bosses about what they want to say or aren't saying. Go beyond formulaic writing. If we just spew out the information someone gives us without analyzing and supplementing it, we deserve to let our computer overloads do the talking for us.

Proprietary APIs: A New Tool in the Age of the Platform

  |   October 28, 2014   11:52 AM ET

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BREE FOWLER   |   March 19, 2014   12:31 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) — IBM is teaming up with the New York Genome Center to help fight brain cancer.

The company said Wednesday that its Watson cloud computing system will be used in partnership with a New York-based genetic research center to help develop treatments for glioblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in U.S. adults.

Cloud Computing Is Here: Observations from IBM Pulse 2014

  |   February 25, 2014    9:31 AM ET

Read More:

BREE FOWLER   |   January 9, 2014    1:20 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the most famous "Jeopardy!" champs of all time is moving to Manhattan.

No, it's not Ken Jennings.

Aisle View: Calling Mr. Watson

Steven Suskin   |   December 9, 2013   11:00 PM ET

"Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you!" is repeated eight times in Madeleine George's new play, The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence at Playwrights Horizons. Historically-minded viewers will immediately recognize that phrase as the 19th century equivalent of "one small step for man"; that is to say, these were the first words successfully transmitted over Alexander Graham Bell's newly-invented acoustic telephone on March 10, 1876. Not-so-learned patrons might guess that it derives from the Sherlock Holmes stories, with good old Dr. Watson being the fellow summoned. Computer dweebs might immediately center on Watson, the IBM computer that in 2011 defeated the all-time champions on the television game-show Jeopardy!

Ms. George, as it turns out, is referring to them all, along with a contemporary computer dweeb named -- naturally enough -- Watson. Her play is an intricate puzzle built around the quest to invent machines that bring "better living through technology." There are four Watson characters -- one a robotic machine -- as the play jumps back and forth between 1876, 1891, 1931 and today.

And there, alas, is the fly in the ointment or -- more aptly -- the virus in the computer. The playwright has built a sturdy-seeming house of cards, supported much of the way by intriguing characters and inviting dialogue. The second act starts with one of the strongest scenes, a bedroom tryst which begins with the modern-day Watson saying "I started out training to be a phlebotomist..." and somehow winds up with Billy Joel. And then, The Watson Intelligence turns baffling. There is too much talk; specifically, so much time spent on philosophizing by the 1891 and 1876 characters that your ears could glaze over. If we stick with the puzzle analogy, it's as if we've patched together all the distinctive sections of a 1000-piece jigsaw and are suddenly faced with 275 pieces of deep blue sea. Ms. George's delightful conceit turns irremediably nondelightful, and there's nothing to be done but wait for everyone to stop talking.

The four Watsons are played very nicely by John Ellison Conlee, a Tony-nominee for his role as the overweight steelworker in The Full Monty. Conlee effortlessly switches from Watson to Watson, contributing an especially droll impersonation as the computer-Watson. Amanda Quaid, who was memorable as the girl in Mike Bartlett's Cock, humanizes the play and does a fine job as the several Elizas. They are joined by David Costabile as the third, crotchety side of the triangle.

Director Leigh Silverman (Well, Chinglish) helps the play and the actors along. She has also devised a workable production scheme with set designer Louisa Thompson and some well-choreographed curtains on traveler tracks. But the last forty minutes of The Watson Intelligence -- which lasts slightly over two hours, not including intermission -- are mighty foggy.

Betsy Isaacson   |   November 15, 2013    3:36 PM ET

Daring developers will soon have a new tool at their disposal: IBM's Watson, the supercomputer that won "Jeopardy!" in 2011.

In an interview with Computerworld, Watson CTO Rob High discussed IBM's plans to open the computer to developers in 2014. "[Watson is] stable and mature enough to support an ecosystem now. We've become convinced there's something very special here and we shouldn't be holding it back," High told ComputerWorld.

Developers will be able to access Watson's power via the cloud. According to the IBM press release, the Watson cloud package will include "a development toolkit" and "access to Watson's API" -- in other words, developers will be able to create apps that interact with the software. The cloud package also gives access to an "application marketplace," ComputerWorld reported, so something resembling an App Store for all Watson-based apps.

So what could developers do with Watson that they can't do with regular data-crunching computers? In a 2012 interview with GigaOM, Dan Cerutti, IBM’s vice president of Watson commercialization, laid out some possibilities. The most radical: Watson could be used as an "adviser" in situations where humans don't know (or can't process) all the relevant information. “If a human being was able to read everything that was relevant and remember it, would they make a better decision once in awhile? We think so."

Extreme Tech reported earlier this year on Watson's technology being used in the medical field. In response to certain variables a doctor inputs, the computer can scan through medical data to return potential diagnoses. "[Health care company] WellPoint points out that doctors miss early stage lung cancer diagnoses about half the time. Watson, on the other hand, is able to get the right diagnosis on these same cases 90% of the time," Extreme Tech reported.

But even developers uninterested in Watson's unprecedented facility with natural language -- the computer used this ability to win on "Jeopardy!" -- could do some fairly innovative things with the machine. In 2012, students at the University of Rochester Business School suggested Watson could construct a system for optimizing organizational responses in the face of natural disasters. "The idea is to combine weather data with census information so that organizations can prepare for and better manage and allocate resources during weather crises."

The price and the release date for the Watson developer package haven't been announced yet, but we're sure developers will jump at the chance to try it out when they can.

How I Shamelessly Exploited Twitter (and Don't Anymore)

Stephen Baker   |   November 9, 2013    3:30 PM ET

Five years ago, I was the Twitter guy at BusinessWeek. I wandered around the the offices telling colleagues to tweet. Now, as the new Twitter stock soars, I barely tweet anymore. The reason: Much as I'd like to, I don't participate anymore in the "nugget economy."

I'll explain. When you tweet, you send out a nugget of information wrapped in self-branding. If people like that nugget, they retweet, and the information spreads, along with the branding. Maybe they respond with interesting information, or a relevant link. Those nuggets can be valuable. When I was at BusinessWeek, the nuggets I harvested turned into blog posts and stories. And the branding was vital for me. BusinessWeek was in late stages of collapse, and I needed the branding to promote my post-BW career, and (hopefully) to sell books. My brand, as I saw it, had been locked up in the magazine for 20 comfortable years. But I suddenly needed to fashion it into a lifeboat.

An example of how shamelessly I used Twitter for my own ends. I started on Twitter on Jan. 5, 2008. I was in Steve Rubel's office at Edelman, above Times Square, asking him how Heather Green and I could update our three-year-old story on blogs. (I remember the day because Barack Obama had just won the Iowa caucases, and his face was on every television in the lobby.) Steve urged me to jump onto Twitter. At that point, I remember, he had 2,400 followers. And he asked them with a tweet why @stevebaker should get onto Twitter. Responses poured in. He was clearly at the controls of a powerful tool. I had a book, The Numerati, coming out later that year and wanted some of that network magic. But how was I going to get thousands of followers?

After a month on Twitter, I had barely 200. But then I came up with a plan to leverage my mainstream journalism asset. I would write a BusinessWeek article explaining "Why Twitter Matters." But instead of calling up the usual sources, like @jayrosen_nyu, @jeffjarvis and @biz (Twitter co-founder Biz Stone), I would research the piece on Twitter. I would tweet topic sentences for each paragraph, and the Twittersphere would respond with examples, links and insights. Hopefully, they'd discuss and argue. Through this process, Twitter would write the story. Word would quickly spread about this story, and people who wanted to participate would follow me. I would catch up to Steve Rubel, or even pass him! I'd be hoisted up in the nugget economy.

It turned out that organizing a boatload of tweets into a coherent article took a lot of work. But it came together. The article went mildly viral and my Twitter following quintupled, finally topping 1,000. My evil strategy worked. And I even won a minor magazine award for the story. (I'll note, in passing, that traditional journalism awards carry zero weight in the nugget economy, not unless they're branding giants, like Pulitzers. If I were still focused on nuggets, I'd trade my dusty old Overseas Press Award for 10,000 Twitter followers in a minute.)

Months after that triumph, the economy cratered and BusinessWeek spiraled toward death. I left in late 2009, after Bloomberg snapped up the magazine for barely the price of a Superbowl commercial, and I got a book contract to write about IBM's Jeopardy computer, Watson. Since then, I've been doing books. That has removed me from the nugget economy. Much of what I'm doing is vaguely secret, and timed by months, not minutes. For instance, I'm co-writing a healthcare book that Penguin will publish next spring. But they're not publicizing it, and I guess they have their reasons. So I don't either. I have a couple of book proposals brewing, also secret. As a result, I don't generate good targeted nuggets. And my Twitter presence has degenerated into the occasional note about my life, a wine I drank in France, a slideshow from Africa. I'm a scattered Tweeter, virtually lapsed and widely ignored.

Now that I think about it, though, I should jump back on. I have a novel coming out next spring, The Boost. Maybe if I break down the first chapter into 150 nuggets.... No, really, I should get serious about this.

But this social media marketing is so exhausting, don't you think?

When Big Brother Meets Big Data

Rep. Rush Holt   |   June 27, 2013   12:17 PM ET

In 2011, shortly after IBM's supercomputer Watson defeated two human champions on the game show Jeopardy!, I had the chance to face off against the machine in a simulated match on Capitol Hill. I got lucky -- I won my round -- but I remember being awed at Watson's ability to draw upon massive troves of data to answer complex, unpredictable questions.

In the context of Jeopardy!, Watson was amusing and impressive. In the context of the machine's current efforts to treat lung cancer, Watson is inspiring. But there may be a dark side to Watson's abilities. The New York Times reported last week that, according to a government consultant, "Both the N.S.A. and the Central Intelligence Agency have been testing Watson in the last two years."

To me, this revelation adds a new layer of concern to disclosures that the NSA has, apparently, been recording the metadata on every phone call in the country.

Why is Watson's involvement so troubling? If the NSA truly possesses a record of every phone call made in the United States, that database would be so large as to be practically unusable by ordinary humans -- ensuring that law-abiding citizens could expect a degree of "privacy through obscurity." Watson-style technology has no difficulty sorting through billions of records, but in the end it's what the computer is told to look for that opens to door to error or even mischief.

Even if you are guilty of nothing, a simple inquiry to a supercomputer could reveal deeply personal, private information. If you send a message to a mental health provider, these supercomputers could know it. If you called your parents while they were vacationing overseas, these supercomputers could know it. If you expressed a view to your House or Senate representatives, these supercomputers could know it.

Personally, I believe that the best way forward is to prohibit the government from creating such all-encompassing permanent databases in the first place. That is why I opposed the FISA Amendments Act, which provided the legal basis for the NSA's dragnet surveillance, when it came to a vote in the House in 2008.

I raise this concern not as someone who fears technology. To the contrary, I am a research scientist, a patent-holder, and a great believer in the power of technology to create jobs and improve our lives. But our legal system is falling hopelessly behind the capabilities of our technology, and we must reform our laws to meet modern-day challenges.

Interestingly, a group of intrepid, patriotic public servants with real computer expertise and an understanding of the law showed us over a decade ago how all of this could be done without violating the privacy of American citizens.

In the early part of the last decade, a group of researchers at NSA developed a program called THINTHREAD that had the ability to sort through the mass of data NSA receives and pick out items requiring further attention -- all without compromising the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans. Unfortunately, their effort came to naught because of internal politics at NSA and competition from a Beltway-bandit boondoggle called TRAILBLAZER. The whole episode became public and ultimately led to a Defense Department Inspector General report, the declassified portions of which paint a damning picture of mismanagement at NSA and retaliation against Thomas Drake and others who reported these problems to the IG.

For the last several years, I have offered amendments to either the annual defense policy or intelligence authorization bills to protect whistleblowers like Drake, and every time the current House majority has refused to even allow those amendments to be considered on the House floor. Real oversight of the intelligence community is impossible so long as the Thomas Drakes of our national security establishment are treated like criminals instead of the public servants they are. Getting those kinds of protections into law remains one of my top legislative priorities.

What about other entities designed to protect the civil liberties of Americans?

At a June 18 hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, members of Congress were told repeatedly that there are multiple layers of "oversight" for the surveillance programs now in the news. I heard those same assurances repeatedly during the eight years I spent on HPSCI. But as I discovered back then and as some of my colleagues pointed out this week, the reality is that nearly all of the alleged "oversight" is internal to the NSA or the Justice Department. Congress's watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), is statutorily prohibited from auditing these surveillance programs -- a grave omission that I tried to correct when I served on HPSCI.

Congress created a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in the same legislation that created the office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004. Unfortunately, the Board was never fully staffed and under President Bush was sufficiently politicized that board member Lanny Davis quit in protest. Although the Board was taken out of the Executive Office of the President in subsequent legislation in 2007, it remains understaffed and underfunded nearly a decade after its creation. And only in the wake of the New York Times' revelations is it beginning to focus on our latest surveillance controversy.

And as for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the judicial body designed to review -- and if necessary refuse -- government surveillance requests? Saying "no" to the executive branch is something this court rarely does.

According to data obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the FISC has approved over 33,000 FISA applications since 1979 and rejected only 11. As the judges on the FISC rotate on and off the court every few years, the ability of the court to maintain a genuine institutional memory and expertise on these issues is compromised. Part of the solution would be for Congress to mandate permanent, independent "special masters" for the FISC.

There is precedent for drawing upon specialized experts to make such weighty determinations. In the Microsoft anti-trust case in the 1990s, for instance, Judge Thomas Pennfield Jackson utilized "special masters" with deep knowledge of computer software. In the complex field of medical malpractice, advocacy groups have supported the creation of special courts staffed by medically trained judges.

We should also consider modifying the statute governing the FISC to ensure judges assigned to it serve for longer terms (say ten years vice the current seven) and that they can be reappointed to the FISC at a subsequent date. Additionally, we should change the law to allow the Government Accountability Office to audit surveillance programs. Finally, Congress should prohibit any attempts to place limits on the ability of American citizens to encrypt their private communications and data, or to require companies in the electronics or telecommunications business from building in "back door" mechanisms to disable encryption used by American citizens.

If federal authorities want to see the data of an American citizen, they should be forced to come through the front door -- and only with a court order based on probable cause, as our Founders intended.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) represents New Jersey's 12th Congressional District. He is a former member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the former chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel.