The Cloud Punch

In a free­wheel­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Dataquest, IBM In­dia Chair­per­son, Vanitha Narayanan, talks about the Big Blue’s cog­ni­tive cloud; and de­mys­ti­fies how Wat­son and quan­tum com­put­ing add more punch for the user

Dataquest - - FRONT PAGE -

As the cloud rat race heats up in the tech in­dus­try, IBM is talk­ing of cog­ni­tive tech­nolo­gies and how its cloud is in­tel­li­gent and ag­ile. So let’s be­gin with cog­ni­tive. What ac­cord­ing to you are the key com­po­nents of this cog­ni­tive era?

IBM’s tryst with AI goes back in time- al­most 5 decades ago. Our sci­en­tists used to work on a lan­guage called LISP, so AI as a dis­ci­pline is not new to IBM. Over the years com­put­ing power has grown in leaps, we have ac­cu­mu­lated hu­mon­gous amounts of data, and we have many path-break­ing tech­nolo­gies from deep learn­ing to an­a­lyt­ics et al. To­day it is all about a tech­nol­ogy ecosys­tem. We are man­i­fest­ing AI via Wat­son and aug­ment­ing lives in more ways than one - our cog­ni­tive play stitches to­gether mul­ti­ple tech­nolo­gies, yet thinks like a hu­man and con­stantly im­pro­vises it. In 1956, if IBM had built a cog­ni­tive plat­form, it might have re­sem­bled a main­frame at that point of time. With all the ca­pa­bil­i­ties that we have to­day, Cog­ni­tive is also mor­ph­ing to the new nor­mal-like Wat­son on a cloud. This has opened up new fron­tiers and hence avail­able any­where to any­one. It’s a plat­form to de­velop a tech­nol­ogy ecosys­tem. If we go back in our his­tory, the Sys­tem 360 was prob­a­bly the first core plat­form that fos­tered this ecosys­tem ap­proach. There were peo­ple who did the net­work­ing for the main­frame, soft­ware for the main­frame and then we saw a whole lot of com­pa­nies do­ing ser­vices for the main­frame. This was one ecosys­tem build up, but fast for­ward again to the 21st cen­tury, this ecosys­tem is go­ing to look very dif­fer­ent, be­cause in those ecosys­tems you need to have syn­chro­nized re­la­tion­ships. There are mul­ti­ple things - and that is why we call this a cog­ni­tive era.

Look at the pro­gram­ming era that lasted for 5 decades. We are tak­ing Wat­son to the main­stream.

You are tak­ing Wat­son’s in­tel­li­gence and smart­ness to your cus­tomers with your cloud. How does it make a dif­fer­ence?

Our in­tent is to build sys­tems to aug­ment hu­mans. We will be very trans­par­ent in en­sur­ing that peo­ple know what ‘data’ trained the sys­tem and also when peo­ple bring cus­tomers, par­tic­u­larly in our case we have so many en­ter­prise cus­tomers who are us­ing the plat­form; they are go­ing to get the value from the data.

So es­sen­tially my ques­tion is that how this change is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent than the pre­vi­ous changes that tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies like IBM have fa­cil­i­tated and brought in? So, if you look at most of the prior tech­nol­ogy trends, most of them re­late to ef­fi­ciency, pro­duc­tiv­ity, and you were able to do more with higher com­put­ing ca­pac­ity, more stor­age, and pro­gram­ming to a cer­tain set of an out­come. They were pro­grammed to a cer­tain sce­nario and that we solved. For in­stance, “I want to run a cam­paign and that cam­paign is go­ing to run on these met­rics. I want to have these op­er­a­tional KPIs, I am go­ing to pro­gram so that, I am able to get these KPIs de­liv­ered.” So now, the fun­da­men­tal tech­no­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence about cog­ni­tive is that you are build­ing a sys­tem that will learn and that will pick up a pat­tern that we may not have picked up ear­lier. In that sense, we are di­rect­ing and you are feed­ing the sys­tem and you are con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing it in many dif­fer­ent do­main cen­tric ways.

Who would be some of the early adopters that you think would go in for this ap­proach of tech­nol­ogy?

We have seen this across sec­tors and we have seen this in dif­fer­ent places. We clearly are see­ing early adop­tion from star­tups and new com­pa­nies. They are look­ing at these tech­nolo­gies be­cause now for the first time prob­a­bly in

the his­tory of tech­nol­ogy, you have ac­cess. So, in­no­va­tive en­trepreneur in­di­vid­u­als who are dig­i­tally tech savvy are lever­ag­ing cog­ni­tive tech­nol­ogy. Par­tic­u­larly if they see a com­pelling prob­lem that they want to solve, they are able to adopt and em­brace. They don’t have to worry about transformation. It’s not only in the devel­op­ment of the new prod­uct and so­lu­tion but it is also in the dis­tri­bu­tion. Be­cause now in­stead of the in­ter­me­di­ate econ­omy, you have dis­tri­bu­tion cost. So your ini­tial cap­i­tal cost and dis­tri­bu­tion cost has gone down. You have new ways of dis­tribut­ing, and maybe it’s a bet­ter way or al­ter­nate way to look at it or un­til you fig­ure out.

Now that you said that Wat­son is sit­ting on IBM’s cloud, can you give a peek into in­no­va­tion hap­pen­ing on the Wat­son out of In­dia?

Over­all if you look at in­no­va­tion, we as a com­pany, which has been in tech area for a long time, in­ven­tion and in­no­va­tion are sort of in­te­gral to how our labs and every­thing runs around that. One of the things that we track very dili­gently is patents. In 2016, In­dia labs con­trib­uted over 650 patents over­all. The patents were in the realm of our strate­gic ar­eas like cloud, cog­ni­tive, se­cu­rity etc. So clearly, the in­no­va­tion cul­ture is alive and kick­ing.

IBM is also talk­ing about quan­tum com­put­ing – can you de­mys­tify that for us, and what is it do­ing in your cloud?

In the larger com­put­ing world we live in a world of ones and ze­ros. But in the world of quan­tum com­put­ing, there is one, zero, or both. So the mo­ment you do both, the pos­si­bil­i­ties be­come ex­po­nen­tial. You have to have quan­tum chips; we have put them in the cloud. We made it avail­able to the com­pa­nies and re­search in­sti­tutes glob­ally and we have just com­mer­cial­ized it.

How com­pet­i­tive IBM cog­ni­tive cloud? Is it af­ford­able?

It is to­day, and it will con­tinue to be. There are mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties that are adopters. But let’s talk about two. One is a com­mu­nity of star­tups and SME’s that can to­day be ‘born in the cloud’. So, with a smart cog­ni­tive cloud they don’t have to mi­grate. If you are a small com­po­nent man­u­fac­turer for in­stance, you can get ERP on the cloud, you can get every­thing on the cloud and you don’t have to worry about hav­ing an af­ford­able per­son who is run­ning servers. Par­tic­u­larly, when you the over­all na­tional push for dig­i­tal pay­ments, the push to GST and so on, this makes a lot of busi­ness and op­er­a­tional sense. So, now you also have these other trends in the coun­try that is forc­ing ev­ery­body to move out of pock­ets of is­lands of the ana­log world. It’s no longer about choice. This is also a good way of say­ing that I am an auto part man­u­fac­turer, why do I need to go via an IT per­son - I am just go­ing straight. Star­tups are very dif­fer­ent in the IT adop­tion at­ti­tude.

One ap­pre­hen­sion of­ten cited is that the cloud, and a cloud packed with cog­ni­tive strengths, will hit jobs. In a coun­try where we need to cre­ate more jobs, is this not a mat­ter of con­cern?

Well, we are de­liv­er­ing our cog­ni­tive cloud it as an open ecosys­tem where hun­dreds or thou­sands of ecosys­tems part­ners who are pro­vid­ing their ser­vices or of­fer­ings can cre­ate many things. So, in that sense, you are not just go­ing to have a few large com­pa­nies cre­at­ing all the jobs. You would see a lot more jobs cre­ated in a broader ecosys­tem.

Vanitha Narayanan Chair­per­son IBM In­dia

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