The Cognitive Era: IoT, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

Interview with Silvia Bellucci, Watson and Cloud Platform Sales at IBM

With more than 2.5 quintillions of data generated every day, 80% of which is of an unstructured nature and therefore difficult to consume, it is easy to understand that the real problem for companies is no longer recuperating data but knowing how to manage them, creating value for business.

In the current scenario of major digital-enabled transformation, the companies that will best face the big data challenge are those that will be able to adapt most quickly to change (Darwin). These companies will analyze and summarize this huge amount of information in real time. Produced by systems, sensors and devices connected to one another, they will be able to gain useful prompts from the information to guide decision-making processes and improve interaction with users.

We have entered the “Cognitive Era”. The industry leader is IBM which, with its systems, is able to offer companies the competitive advantage they are looking for, equipping them with important computing capacities in real time. Whirlpool, a well-known consumer electronics brand, is indeed relying on the Internet of Things technology based on IBM Watson’s services to continue to monitor and improve its products even after their sale.

Alberto Frassetto, Industry 4.0 & Cognitive Industry Solutions at IBM, and speaker at the event “The Cognitive Era: IoT, Big Data e AI, proiezioni verso un futuro cyberfisico” (projections towards a cyber-physical future), has illustrated the steps that Whirlpool uses, thanks to the IBM Watson platform, to collect data on the use of its devices. It obtains valuable feedback on how customers use its machines and how these machines respond. Once processed with AI’s support, this same information is then able to provide useful overviews in order to adapt future projects to customer needs and improve any critical issues in the manufacturing process.

After all, the Whirlpool brand is not new to the use of technology in order to make its own internal processes more efficient: indeed, it takes advantage of THRON, the Intelligent DAM, to streamline its most repetitive and time-wasting marketing activities. THRON’s AI engines automatically classify product content, then deciding on their own which is the most suitable to propose to each user based on an analysis of their previous browsing journeys and their geographical origin.

But let’s try to better understand the context in which companies are moving and in what way Artificial Intelligence can bring added value to business. We spoke about this with Silvia Bellucci, Watson and Cloud Platform Sales at IBM Italia:


Q: Data, analytics and machine learning represent the “heart” of a modern cognitive business. Please could you explain what we mean when we talk about cognitive systems and what role they play in Artificial Intelligence?

A: The term “cognitive” refers to the words learning, discerning, reasoning, and understanding. With the term “cognitive system”, we are making reference to a system that is able to go from perception to learning, using inferential strategies to process information and Artificial Intelligence (IA) and Machine Learning (ML) tools to derive value.

On a global scale, analysts predict that 40% of digital transformation initiatives will use Artificial Intelligence services and 75% of business applications will use Artificial Intelligence solutions and features by 2021. 

The need to develop a cognitive system is the result of the enormous proliferation of structured and unstructured data, the digital transformation that many companies and public administrations have undertaken, and the significant technological alterations that make companies’ and professionals’ ability to keep up with them even more challenging.

Artificial Intelligence provides the opportunity to take advantage of the great potential of data and stand out on the market. It offers us the possibility to deepen our understanding of complex phenomena, starting out from available data and new and powerful processing capabilities.

At IBM, we prefer to use the term “Augmented Intelligence” to underline how Artificial Intelligence complements the human kind. It supports it, but it does not substitute it. Watson, IBM’s AI, learns continuously using deep learning and machine learning techniques to solve problems in the most varied of fields: from visual recognition and understanding of a written or spoken text to research into company knowledge and personality studies based on social media. Watson learns from a set of limited data and protects customer data. Together with the inferences derived from them, the latter remain the property of the customer.

Companies of different kinds and varied corporate functions consider it essential to follow strategies linked to Artificial Intelligence: from marketing, human resources and security to banks, energy companies and insurance brokers. What slows the development of such strategies is a lack of skills, a difficulty of insertion into company processes and a lack of trust in the results produced.

Indeed, of late, strong ethical concerns regarding Artificial Intelligence have been emerging: although, on the one hand, Artificial Intelligence should favor human development, on the other hand, it is advisable to keep an eye on the prejudices that algorithms could conceal. To this end, IBM has recently announced a solution known as AI Open Scale to provide visibility on how AI operates and monitor the algorithm prejudice of Artificial Intelligence solutions.


Q: Why doesn’t a cognitive transformation exist without cloud?

A: Undertaking a cognitive transformation means deciding to review your business processes and your own organization in order to gain competitivity and internal efficiency. Predicting and anticipating are the areas that guide the decisions of companies that want to stay on the market. The predictive analysis that takes advantage of big data, 80% of which is found behind company firewalls, needs supporting enabling technologies.

The cloud offers guarantees in terms of security, reliability, service levels, and scalability. In particular, it allows for Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technologies to be accessed at low costs. The cloud represents the cornerstone of cognitive transformation because it acts as an enabling and essential factor so that this transformation can be fully achieved.

The cloud allows different environments to be created, which are independent of one another, and whose configurations and accesses can be controlled. The cloud also means ease of automation and the possibility to adapt to any workload, paying on the basis of actual use.

The possibility to choose between a public, private and hybrid cloud allows for any difficulties in moving workloads and data outside company firewalls to be overcome, offering speed and flexibility. In this regard, IBM has developed a solid hybrid cloud model, amongst others, that allows new technologies to be integrated with existing assets and investments.

And, on IBM Cloud, all the Artificial Intelligence and machine learning services are available immediately: in just a few steps, you can create a virtual assistant or models to extract knowledge for data scientists.