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Understanding cognitive technology: The next wave of AI for the workplace

April 23, 2019

The robots are coming. A silicon super-intelligence is on the cusp of transforming the world of work, giving life to a million hopes, fears and think pieces. Unlike a prior generation of “dumb” robots that replaced physical labor, cognitive technology is evolving, learning to understand your job, your company and even your industry. But what if artificial intelligence (AI) wasn’t evolving to compete with you for your job, but help you be better at it?

Cognitive technology (aka cognitive computing) is a kind of AI, designed to boost human insight and performance by simulating human thinking and interaction, automating and enhancing basic tasks.

Everyday examples of cognitive technology include product recommendations, pricing optimization and fraud detection. Additionally, many companies are using conversational AI platforms to automate customer support. According to a recent Deloitte study, early adopters are already found in various sectors, including health care, consumer products, financial services, technology, entertainment, professional services and government.

The potential applications of cognitive technology to augment human performance appear to be limitless. According to a primer in InfoWorld, Paul Roma, former chief analytics officer at Deloitte, explained that cognitive technology “is on a path towards increased permeation across business processes in the areas of robotic and cognitive automation, cognitive engagement and cognitive insights.”

At Sorcero, we have found an immense appetite for cognitive technology in the pharmaceutical sector, especially in areas such as medical affairs, medical effectiveness and medical publishing. These teams all deal with massive amounts of information — far more than any person could possibly keep up with. Much of this information is in the form of unstructured data and text-based documents. Furthermore, every week new pharmaceuticals are rolled out, new studies are published and there is a veritable geyser of real-world evidence being collected.

By any indicator, the flood of information and technological change is only accelerating. Eighty-six percent of executives surveyed by Accenture “anticipate that the pace of technology change will increase rapidly or at an unprecedented rate in their industry over the next three years.” It can be fatiguing just to think about it.

A Human’s Partner In Production

Based on my perspective, the most effective worker will be the one who can cut through the flood to find the relevant information to make the right decision, win over a customer or just find the one thing they need to stay in the flow of work. This is where cognitive computing can achieve transformational outcomes.

While your brain may not be able to keep up, a clever AI system can sift through thousands of documents to find the exact one you need — in the blink of an eye. This AI is highly advanced over a standard keyword search. It can understand the relationships between the words, sentences and paragraphs, grasp context and identify important subjects. It understands full questions and finds their answers.

But however clever this AI may be, it is still only a specialized tool with a limited set of uses. It needs a skilled person to wield it. This is where people come in. Rather than being replaced by a robot, cognitive technology may turn workers into cyborgs, endowed with superhuman skills and abilities. AI that automates routine tasks can allow you to complete “busy work” at lightning speed. AI that “reads” documents can make finding the thing you need intuitive and instant.

Adapting To The ‘Liquid Workforce’

In the next few years, I believe the most important skills will be the abilities to learn new technology and adapt to new information, what Accenture calls a “liquid workforce.” As we’re discovering, this new technology is more opportunity than a threat.

However, as with any new technology, there are factors to consider and steps to take to make sure it is the right decision for your business. Cognitive technology often operates at economies of scale — the more information the better. Smaller businesses and narrower professions that don’t handle large amounts of information might not find the technology as useful as larger corporations and organizations.

Before adopting cognitive technology, you may want to do research on the proper tools, talk to your employees about what “superpowers” they would want to have and discuss tech options with other business leaders in your industry. As always, make sure that the cognitive technology solution you choose fits your long-term business strategy.

Once you determine the proper tools for your company and implement them, the only remaining question will be what to do with your free time. Personally, I’m using it to learn new things.

By Sean Smith

Source: Forbes

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