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Casey Williams   |   May 20, 2016   11:34 AM ET

IBM’s Watson is pitching in to tackle California’s drought.

The supercomputer, which may be best known for destroying human opponents in Jeopardy, has been enlisted by environmental consulting firm OmniEarth to track water use across California.

OmniEarth announced the partnership on Friday. But for over a month, the company has been tapping into Watson’s computing power to scan satellite and aerial images of California’s lush valleys and barren deserts to figure out how Californians are using their dwindling water reserves.

Even without OmniEarth or Watson's help, Californians are working to track and cut down their water consumption. Since January, the state has required farmers and ranchers who hold long-time water rights to monitor their water consumption using meters and gauges. Just this week, the state lifted certain restrictions on water use. 

OmniEarth says Watson is valuable because it can track water use across the state at warp speed. Instead of laboring for several hours to scan 150,000 images, OmniEarth can tap Watson to process those images in 12 minutes, according to Jonathan Fentzke, chief strategy officer at OmniEarth. 

“We can do the whole U.S., all 144 million parcels, in hours,” Fentzke told The Huffington Post. 

OmniEarth provides its water use data to 90 local government agencies in California, including the City of Folsom and the East Bay Municipal Water District. The local authorities then use that data to draft water budgets and crack down on excessive water users in the area.

To get information about water use, Watson uses “visual recognition” to scan images of land parcels for valuable information, according to Pesenti.

But unlike less-powerful image detection software, Watson doesn't just identify a specific object -- say, a crop field -- in an image. Instead, it combs through lots and lots of information about the image -- like the objects it contains and the colors of those objects -- and uses that information to "understand" the image as a whole. 

In the case of OmniEarth, researchers can use Watson not just to determine if a given parcel of land contains a crop field, but also to calculate the exact amount of water used by that parcel based on all of the information contained in the photo.

What's more, Watson doesn’t need to know much about water consumption to tell OmniEarth if people are using too much water. Using machine learning, Watson can scan lots of images and, over time, figure out what aspects of those images are most important.

“Watson doesn’t know anything about water usage or Earth images,”Jerome Pesenti, vice president of IBM's Watson platform, told HuffPost. “But if you give it some training images, the system can take those as examples and learn from them.”

That means OmniEarth can cut down on the amount of human labor needed to track water use. “Because of machine learning, we don’t necessarily need humans in the loop,” Fentzke said. “When when policy or other things change, we just automatically update it.”

With accurate, real-time water consumption data, OmniEarth says it can help water authorities develop customized water budgets for cities and towns based on how much water households, industries and farms are actually using. It can also help governments crack down on people or companies that flout water restrictions, according to Fentzke.

“It makes for more efficient outreach,” Fentzke said. “They can target messages to users who might not be aware that they’re overusing water.”

The company has already seen some early success in California. Thanks in part to Watson's super fast calculations, there’s been a 15 percent reduction in water consumption among some of OmniEarth's clients, according to Fentzke.

Reductions like that are a big deal in California, where water scarcity remains a major concern. While California announced on Wednesday that it would be lifting some water restrictions, water shortages continue to plague cities and counties across the state, especially in drier southern California.

Watson made its public debut in 2011, when it used its computing skills and ability to parse language to crush two Jeopardy champions. Since then, IBM has converted Watson into a cloud-based computing platform that anyone can pay to tap into. The platform's basic appeal is its ability to suck up huge amounts of raw data and convert it into useful information, according to Pesenti.

There’s all this very unstructured information out there, and you need some tools to be able to extract understanding out of that information,” Pesenti said. I think OmniEarth is a great example of how people can leverage the platform for their own needs.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that IBM's Watson has defeated humans opponents in the game "Go." It has not. Google's DeepMind supercomputer has bested humans in "Go," however. 


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Damon Beres   |   February 22, 2016    9:52 AM ET

Take a second to think about the smartphone in your pocket. When you were born, the idea of such a small, powerful computer was a sci-fi dream -- and now these devices are everywhere, transforming personal health, relationships and business transactions so completely that life without them seems impossible.

We're entering a new era of technology that's bound to shape the lives of our children more substantially. It's the era of artificial intelligence, and a group of academics and industry leaders gathered at the MIT Tech Conference on Saturday assured a full audience that the seeds of this robotic revolution are already planted and growing.

"We're only at the beginning," Rob High, chief technology officer of IBM Watson, a business unit centered around the titular computing system, said during a keynote speech at the conference. "We're going to see lots and lots of advancements."

That's pretty amazing, considering where AI stands today. We've already created a smiling robot that can comfort peoplea robotic third arm that can play along when attached to a human drummer and software that can steer cars without human drivers. One of the biggest goals for tech developers now -- including the people at Facebook -- is to create programs and robots that are capable of fully understanding the nuances of human speech and expression. 

Once that happens, machines will be able to process huge amounts of data -- including books, medical studies, social media status updates and facial cues as seen by a robot's camera eyeballs -- in hopes of advancing the human experience.

For example, a project already underway with the IBM Watson system would allow a computer to make treatment recommendations to doctors. Those recommendations would be based on hard data from reams of medical studies combined with the doctor's observations about a specific patient.

There are lighter uses for AI, too. Software could recognize when you look drunk in a photo you're about to post to Facebook and tell you to do otherwise, for example. 

Perhaps most encouraging for anyone who's ever struggled to learn a new device, AI programs might also make computers of the future feel more natural to use. Think about it: Current gadgets require a contrived series of actions, like double-clicking with a mouse or downloading an app to fulfill a specific purpose. If you don't translate your intention into a series of actions your device understands, nothing happens. Think about how many little steps are actually required when you copy and paste a line of text into an email, for example.

"We have to adapt ourselves as human beings to the constraints of computers," High said during his keynote, suggesting that the membrane separating man from machine could crumble in the future as machines are able to understand the subtleties of human communication.

That sounds great, and many speakers at the MIT Tech Conference hit on a related theme. They suggested that advanced technology would augment the human experience, enriching lives without rendering people obsolete.

But there's another possibility.

The Dark Future

We'll get right to it: Stephen Hawking believes artificial intelligence could doom the human race, and he's not alone. The concerns are nothing new, but they're increasingly relevant as technology becomes more and more advanced.

Bill Gates agreed during an appearance on "Charlie Rose" Monday evening.

"We cried wolf, wolf, wolf, and next thing we know there's a damn wolf," Gates said in response to a question about the development of AI.

He cautioned that there could be "profound consequences" as a result of this technology. Machines could easily render many jobs obsolete, he said. And what happens when AI becomes smarter than the people who created it?

What will give us purpose in life? Illah Nourbakhsh, Carnegie Mellon University

That last point seems far off. Robots are still learning to grasp basic commands. But Gates pointed out that the technology will scale up quickly -- a viewpoint shared by Ray Kurzweil, a well-known futurist who gave the second keynote at MIT Saturday.

"Technology is growing exponentially," Kurzweil said during his talk.

Academics know this, and one expressed particular concern over the future during MIT's "Life in 2025" panel.

"This issue of what it means to be a person in an age where more will be done by machines around us -- what will give us purpose in life?" asked Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

"We need some kind of disruptive change in the social contract eventually. ... You need to give people a sense of purpose, a sense of pride and being," he added. "We need to resolve that at the global level."

That's easier said than done. But it's not impossible. It would take responsible corporations and an informed public, but precedents could also be set for AI before it's too late. There's so much potential for good here -- we just need to make sure people are protected.

Think about what's happening right now with Apple: The company recognized a potential breach in consumer privacy, informed the public and is poised to argue its position in court. Whatever results will be precedent-setting.

"Technology has been a double-edged sword ever since fire," Kurzweil said at MIT. "It kept us warm, but it also burned down our houses."

Damon Beres   |   February 20, 2016    9:11 AM ET

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The robots are coming! The robots are coming! But maybe that's OK.

Rob High, IBM's chief technology officer for Watson, on Saturday urged an audience of industry elites, academics and press to consider how artificial intelligence technology should improve -- rather than replace -- the human experience.

AI can help people became more efficient, creative and informed, High suggested during a keynote speech at the MIT Tech Conference.

"It's not about answering the question, it's about helping you come up with the questions you're not thinking to ask," High said.

Take Watson, for example. It's a technology platform geared toward using a vast amount of data to produce intelligent responses to some of the biggest human problems, like cancer treatment.

No one human could possibly read every medical journal out there, but Watson is being trained to ingest that information and produce smart solutions based on specific data -- a patient's background and symptoms, for example.

That's a true partnership between humans and AI. Watson takes information that people produce, considers a variety of factors and provides knowledge that is then used to help a human doctor do their job better. But Watson is not a replacement for an actual doctor.

There are concerns that robots are coming for our jobs, though. Meet Pepper, a Japanese robot that's able to function as an intelligent sales representative.

In a video High included in his presentation, Pepper interacts with a man who wants to buy a cheap television. She up-sells him and suggests a cutting edge 4K TV instead. (Yes, this is real life.)

The man asks the robot if channels are even broadcasting in 4K yet. The robot considers the question and responds with several stations that, indeed, broadcast in 4K.

That's cool, but there's an obvious dark side. A store like Best Buy could theoretically populate its TV section with a couple of Peppers someday, rather than pay a regular wage to human employees.

We as a society have a role and responsibility for deciding how we want [artificial intelligence] to affect us.
Rob High, CTO of IBM Watson

The Huffington Post asked High about concerns that a robot like AI could steal human jobs. He said, of course, that he doesn't have the answer. But he said it's absolutely a question society will have to grapple with in the near future. 

"We, not just as a set of engineers a set of scientists building these things," High said. "We as a society have a role and responsibility for deciding how we want these things to affect us in the world."

He compared AI to a hammer. There's a social contract that you use a hammer to build stuff, not to bludgeon people to death. Sweet, robotic Pepper isn't a murder machine, but the same principle applies.

"We have created conditions and regulatory requirements and social conditions that place expectations on how people use these things," High said.

And anyway, he added, so many of these jobs have already disappeared. Hotel concierge desks are so often understaffed, he offered. Supermarkets and pharmacies have already embraced self-service checkout machines.

In High's vision, an intelligent robot who fills an already empty slot makes life better for current employees and customers.

"Having a robot, in this case augmenting the staff, benefits the people who are there so that it helps them serve their customers better," he said.

So, sleep tight: Maybe there's nothing to fear about the robot revolution after all.


How To Stop Worrying And Love Artificial Intelligence

Self-Driving Cars Could Save Millions Of Lives -- But There’s A Catch

5 Things AI Can Do Better Than Humans

George Zarkadakis   |   January 4, 2016    6:25 PM ET

Artificial Intelligence is constantly pushing the boundaries of what machines are capable of. But could machines ever become better than us? The answer is of course 'yes', at least in many things where our intellect used to be the unchallenged champion of creativity and intelligence. Here are 5 tough intellectual areas where AI is already performing better than humans.

Search the web quicker
RankBrain is a machine learning AI that handles the toughest web queries in Google's search engine. It understands the meaning of words and phrases, and can therefore guess what should be to the top ranking pages in never-seen-before searches. And it is better than its biological creators. When tested, humans could guess 70% of the time, while RankBrain's success rate was 80%. It has not replaced Google's brute force Hummingbird Search algorithm yet, but works synergistically with it; a sign of things to come as AI is embedded into existing information systems in order to enhance their performance.

Work in deadly environments
Robots can survive where no human can, in places like deep space, the oceanic benthos, or inside a radioactive reactor. The trouble has been that they could not perform at the dexterity and intelligence level of humans. As robotics pioneer Hans Moravec has famously noted, although high-level reasoning is relatively cheap to implement when it comes to low-level sensorimotor skills AI needs enormous computational resources. In other words, human babies can do more complex things with their bodies than the most sophisticated robots. But not any more: a UC Berkley team used deep learning to teach robots fine motor skills, such as screw caps on bottles, or use the back of a hammer to remove a nail from wood. The technique simulates eye-hand coordination in humans and the research results show that robots can now match human dexterity and speed.

Translate in many languages
In the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" the babelfish was a fictitious alien fish that performed instant translation once inserted into one's ear. AI is catching up quickly with science fiction, as so-called "machine translation" is finally coming of age. The Google Translate app can instantly translate text in 27 languages. And Skype is using neural network technology that mimics the human brain in order to understand human speech and instantly translate from English to Spanish. At Microsoft, who own Skype, are beta testing the method with a view to expand it in any language, and thus facilitate face-to-face communication between humans with no knowledge of each other's language.

Get a PhD quickly
Critics of AI nauseatingly argue that machines could never be creative, or curious, or discover anything of significance - because they lack consciousness. Nevertheless, a team at Tufts have proved naysayers wrong. Intelligence does not need consciousness to discover new knowledge. By combining genetic algorithms with genetic pathway simulation the researchers created a system that was able to make the first scientific theory to be discovered by an AI: of how flatworms (or the species "planaria" to the initiated) regenerate body parts. The AI-generated theory will have a significant impact in human regenerative medicine.

Deliver a correct medical diagnosis
Ever since that day in 2011 when it beat the human champions of Jeopardy!, IBM Watson has been growing its capabilities with leaps and bounds. One of its focus areas has been oncology and the diagnosis of cancers. For human physicians the challenge of making correct diagnosis is huge. It is estimated that in order to be at top of medical knowledge human doctors must spend 160 hours per week reading new research papers. IBM Watson's AI does that at a fraction of the time. On top of this it has the ability to search through millions of patient records, learn from previous diagnoses, and improve the reasoning links between symptoms and diagnosis. The result? IBM Watson's accuracy rate for lung cancer is 90%, compared to a mere 50% of human physicians.

And yet, although AI has conquered many of the high castles of human intellect it is still limited because it lacks our ability for general reasoning. AI systems can do any the above 5 things better than any human, but there is not a single AI that can do all 5 things together, or more. "General intelligence" remains the Holy Grail for AI research. Once achieved, we will have arrived at the beginning of a truly intelligent mechanical mind. Nevertheless, DeepMind's seminal paper last year in Nature demonstrated how AI could develop general intelligence; in the example presented in the paper a deep learning algorithm was able to play many different Atari games by reasoning from first principles. So watch that space in the next two to five years, as researchers build on top of DeepMind's DQN ("Deep Q-networks") algorithm, and AI enters a new phase of accelerated evolution.

Alexander Howard   |   December 9, 2015   10:52 AM ET

For the past year, IBM has been helping Beijing to combat its air pollution crisis using a data analysis platform called Green Horizons. On Wednesday, Big Blue's Research division announced four more partnerships -- two in China, one in India and one in South Africa -- to increase the capacity of more urban centers to measure and monitor air pollution.

When Green Horizons comes to the cities of Baoding, Zhangjiakou, Delhi and Johannesburg, it will use machine learning to analyze previous weather forecasts, crunching data to determine how good those predictions were in different scenarios, and then build better forecasting models over time. 

Weather conditions have a direct effect upon how city residents experience the effects of air pollution, from high temperatures increasing ground-level ozone concentrations to high winds carrying industrial particulates into urban areas.


"The system constantly learns how can you improve a forecast, when and where, for what part of the city, and under what time horizon," Hendrik Hamann, manager of physical analytics for IBM Watson, told The Huffington Post. 

In the video below, you can see a demonstration of the Green Horizons forecasting system, applying the technology that underpins IBM Watson to predicting the intensity of air pollution:

"Knowing where pollution is coming from and how much is in the air will drive action to reduce it," Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told HuffPost. "Experience shows that when measurement happens, pollution levels go down and public health is improved. This near-term action improves the livability of communities and the wellbeing of citizens."

The news of IBM's expanded collaboration comes during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where representatives from over 190 countries are discussing an historic accord on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Once we have an agreement, the world will need to know how each country is doing at meeting those commitments," said Perciasepe. "Programs like Green Horizons will help build the capacity for that to happen and in the long term, everyone benefits from that."

Using data analysis to more accurately source, model and mitigate air pollution is a key strategy for combating climate change in urban environments. 

While Beijing's ongoing air pollution problems show that these initiatives are no panacea on their own, they can help cities focus and improve their responses. Hamann noted that cities will also have to invest in clean energy generation for the future.

"Power plants and industrial activity are major contributors [of air pollution in Beijing], but even if you take the industrial activity, they are distributed through surroundings," said Hamann. "Take the example of coal plants: A lot are providing backup generation, to pick up peak loads. When you turn on, how much energy do you consume? Given these conditions, what can I do on potentially reducing the energy output of a coal plant?"

IBM Research has developed renewable energy forecasting tools to help cities understand what other power sources they will have -- or need -- to supplement or replace turning on those plants.

"My belief is tech is really the solution to many of those problems, from pollution, to healthy living and a sustainable future," said Hamann. "Through tech like this, we'll cope with the challenge of so many people living in cities. Think about the city of Los Angeles, which was heavily polluted in the 1970s. Through technology, the right policies and catalytic converters, it was completely turned around." 

While southern California still has some of the worst air quality in the United States, Los Angeles children are getting healthier, due to improvements in the smog. That outcome was driven by regulations that enforced tougher emissions requirements on vehicles.

Here's hoping that knowing more about the problems drives more cities towards solving them.

Damon Beres   |   October 28, 2015    9:48 AM ET

In maybe the least sexy-sounding news of all time, IBM on Wednesday announced the acquisition of digital components of The Weather company, including But don't let those eyes glaze over: This could be a very big deal in terms of how you'll learn about weather moving forward.

IBM will be able to use its Watson supercomputer system to create more precise forecasts. Consider this: Watson is already able to use big data to help doctors diagnose serious ailments. No one human could possibly have a complete, encyclopedic knowledge of every symptom or treatment option out there, but Watson -- which pulls information from an array of sources spanning academic reports and tweets -- basically can. 

Apply that same idea to the weather and, well, you see where this is going.

"We see the next wave of improved forecasting coming from the intersection of atmospheric science, computer science and analytics," David Kenny, chairman and CEO of The Weather Company, said in a press release announcing the move. 

Here's how IBM explains the deal in a press release of its own (emphasis ours):

Upon closing, IBM will acquire The Weather Company product and technology assets that include the world’s leading meteorological data science experts, precision forecasting capabilities and a high-volume cloud platform that ingests, processes, analyzes and distributes enormous data sets at scale in real time. The company’s sophisticated models analyze data from three billion weather forecast reference points, more than 40 million smartphones and 50,000 airplane flights per day, allowing it to offer a broad range of data-driven products and services to more than 5000 clients in the media, aviation, energy, insurance and government industries.

Translated: IBM will tap into a huge network of weather data, digest it and provide information to commercial clients.

As for how that might affect you, a spokesman for IBM explained to The Huffington Post that insurance companies, for example, will be able to know more about incoming storms and pass that information along to customers. Airlines will be able to better understand weather conditions and, in theory, avoid delays while wasting less fuel.

In other words, there's a lot of potential here. Think about all the ways crummy weather can ruin your day -- then consider how your frustrations might be alleviated with just a bit more information at the right time.

Consider also the resources that could be saved around the world: Cities could better understand when (and if) they need to shut down public transportation ahead of a hurricane, for example. As IBM noted it in this Vine post (below), routine weather cost U.S. businesses $500 billion last year -- money that might be better kept for a rainy day:

Artificial Intelligence as a Customer Experience

Markus Giesler   |   October 11, 2015   10:56 PM ET

Are some of the most successful tech experiences about cutting-edge technology or about powerful humanity? Or are they about experiencing the latter through the former?

Many of us have seen IBM's recent Watson commercials featuring conversations between Watson and various humans such as songwriter Bob Dylan. The message is that Watson isn't just a regular computer, it marks the dawn of cognitive computing - a kind of computing that will outsmart us humans.

According to IBM's VP of branded content and global creative Ann Rubin, the commercials help consumers understand the new world of cognitive computing: "We're focusing on the advertising here, but this is really more than an advertising campaign," Rubin said. "It's a point of view that IBM has, and it's going across all of our marketing, our internal communications, how we engage sellers and our employees. It's really across everything that we do."

I really like Rubin's quote and IBM's marketing activities around Watson because they illustrate a really important lesson about what it takes to create a captivating technological experience - a lesson that most technologists and tech entrepreneurs easily forget.

Strictly speaking, technological customer experiences (here: the experience of artificial intelligence) aren't so much about powerful machines but rather about creating powerful human-technology relationships, that is, modulating and enhancing what it means to be human through technology. In order for the machine to be perceived as intelligent, the humans who are supposed to interact with it need to change their way of looking at the world.

To many of us in marketing this sounds like a very strange idea. Isn't the true purpose of Watson to solve human problems? Yes, of course it is. But if this was a given, why should IBM have to run expensive advertising campaigns to promote Watson in the above manner? Echoing Arthur C. Clarke's famous contention that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, in order for Watson's magic to appear in the form of one or more thriving markets, a bit of cultural tweaking are probably necessary.

Children are actually much more used to thinking in this way than adults. When I was a kid, for example, my friend Frederik and I were huge fans of 2001's HAL 9000. Somehow we couldn't resist the urge to re-create some of the uncanny magic that we saw in HAL. And so we spent endless hours after school with our rudimentary Commodore Amiga computers, I/O boards, microphones, loudspeakers, and countless sound, light, motion, and pressure sensors to create an AI-like experience for our parents.

Quickly, we discovered that the real difficulty wasn't so much in the technology. Of course getting the wiring and programming right really mattered. But the real challenge was our parents' behavior. Much to our chagrin, they refused to behave in the manner they should in order for the experience of machine intelligence to manifest for them. If we didn't know when and how they would enter our room and with what questions or concerns and for how long, our sensors wouldn't be triggered, the intended consumer-technology relationship wouldn't materialize, and the magic simply wouldn't happen.

To address this issue, we conducted probably the world's first-ever ethnography of parental room entering and exiting behavior. For weeks, we would video record our parents while entering and exiting our rooms, analyze their language and gestures, and explore their mood and underlying goals. Soon we discovered that there was a complex science behind parental room entering and that, if we ever wanted to succeed in our endeavour to enthral them through our AI experience, we would not only have to tailor it to their world but also tailor their routines and behaviors a bit to what we could realistically deliver through our network of sensors and programming.

So in a second step, we began to carefully re-arrange desks, beds, lamps, carpets, and other objects and we put up signs and sensors in ways that would make our parents' paths more compatible with our computing capabilities. About a month or two later, we had finally established a constellation that worked: every time our parents entered the room they were able to have a one-minute conversation with a computer. Not really the most elaborate chat but enough to impress them - and the occasional guests.

Like us kids but only on a much larger scale, IBM's engineers and marketers understand AI not as a technology but as a social system. Unlike most tech entrepreneurs, they understand Watson as something that will significantly benefit banking, insurance, healthcare, and retail but only in the moment in which these industries will allow Watson to "outthink" them. And that doesn't happen naturally but requires a fair bit of technological and social redesign. Watson needs to appear on Jeopardy and win, he needs to outsmart Bob Dylan on love and time, he needs to talk with doctors and cancer survivors about life and health. The more we learn how to approach and interact with Watson, the smarter he will become.

Joe Satran   |   August 12, 2015    6:47 PM ET

In the latest sign that the singularity is nigh, IBM announced last week that it would start teaching its ultra-fast computer system "Watson" to be something like a robotic radiologist. 

The goal is for Watson -- most famous for beating human opponents on "Jeopardy!" -- to be able to interpret medical images from sources such as CT scans, electrocardiograms and MRIs, as well as photographs of skin conditions such as melanoma.

IBM has already started training Watson to analyze visual data -- "to see," the company says. The supercomputer will soon bring this ability to bear on a trove of 30 billion medical images that IBM acquired in its recent $1 billion purchase of health tech company Merge, to figure out how to distinguish a normal result from an abnormal one.

So does that mean that your radiologist cousin could soon be out of a job? That the next time you get an MRI on your bum knee, you'll hear the results in C-3PO's voice? 

Not quite. At least not according to radiologists -- admittedly not an unbiased group on this issue. 

Dr. John Eng, a radiologist and machine learning expert at Johns Hopkins Hospital, was dubious that Watson will actually be able to compete with a human radiologist when it comes to visual diagnoses anytime soon. 

"It seems like the claims are being made that Watson is going to look at images and make general diagnoses from those images and that seems like it's a ways off," he said. 

That's because interpreting radiologic images is arguably one of the toughest visual reasoning tasks that humans take on -- far more difficult than, say, identifying a specific person in a photo posted on Facebook. "The human brain is a remarkable pattern recognition machine. It's going to be difficult to beat the brain," said Dr. Daniel Sodickson, the vice chair for research in radiology at the New York University School of Medicine.

But if Watson can't beat radiologists as easily as other "Jeopardy!" contestants, it can join them to assume a key role in patient care.

"As good as we are as radiologists, and as much training as we have, there are still things that we miss on images every day," said Dr. Michael Recht, chair of radiology at the NYU School of Medicine. "And the goal would be to have aids that would help us make sure we wouldn't miss things."

Computers already help radiologists around the country interpret mammograms. Programs highlight potential problem areas on a patient's images, allowing the radiologist who examines them to spend their time most efficiently. And leading radiology departments have also started to adopt similar programs to assist with certain types of CT scans and MRIs -- for example, by tracking the size of abnormal growths more precisely than the human eye is able to.

Watson -- or some other artificial intelligence like Watson -- could, in the not so distant future, take that type of work further and act as a first filter for all sorts of medical images that are later examined by doctors. That could help them catch serious problems that are hard to see with the naked eye. A supercomputer could also act as a kind of second opinion, helping to confirm a doctor's suspicions about a somewhat unusual diagnosis. That, in turn, could cut down on redundant testing, which saves patients time, money and dangerous radiologic exposure.

Watson could serve a particularly crucial role in areas underserved by advanced medicine, suggested Dr. Kimberly Amrami, a musculoskeletal radiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

"If I were a physician in a remote part of sub-Saharan Africa, say, I might have access to a computer, but not a bunch of people with specialized knowledge," she said. "So Watson could serve as a first pass and help determine whether, based on this exam, you need another more advanced, more expensive test, or consultation from an expert far away."

As for the idea that a computer could ever replace radiologists completely, Amrami was highly skeptical. She noted that some people worried about that happening when computer-assisted diagnostics first started to crop up decades ago -- but time has proven them wrong. 

"When we went from film to digital, people were worried, but that enhancement in our technology actually made us more important," she said. "So I think that the same will be true here. Watson will only make us better radiologists." 

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.