A chat with two clever fellows who attended IBM Think 2018
The AI wave came crashing down on the shores of this year’s IBM Think event, where over 30,000 people converged to learn how to integrate AI into the many ways they operate to advance their businesses.
As partners with IBM, we had a strong Dun & Bradstreet contingent take in the IBM Think experience, including Dr. Anthony Scriffignano, our Chief Data Scientist, who sat on stage with Dr. Inderpal Bhandari, IBM’s Global Chief Data Officer to discuss “Transforming Your Business: Cognitive Blueprint + Foundational Use Cases for Data Leaders,” and Jay Glick, Dun & Bradstreet Vice President responsible for the IBM partner relationship, who led a team that showcased the regulatory compliance/financial crimes and Master Data solutions we’re developing together with IBM and Watson teams. I thought it would be insightful for our readers to get viewpoints from two of our most interesting thought-leaders on the topic of AI and the inextricable importance of contextual data for learning and decision-making.
MK: Hi, Anthony and Jay. Welcome and thanks in advance for having this chat. IBM Think was billed as “the first of its kind business and technology event.” What was your initial impression when you arrived?
AS: This event was big … very big. I had my first clue when I literally needed an IBM Watson assistant to help me navigate the schedule of events. There wasn’t one single venue, rather a series of connected (and some remote) locations that were integrated into an overall experience. Of course, there was technology everywhere. But there was also a healthy dose of good old-fashioned collaboration. There were meeting spaces all around (some even on the rooftop space of meeting booths!), and they all seemed chock-full of interesting interactions. My personal favorite part of the overall experience was trying to find the Dun & Bradstreet booth, not once but many times, as I got lost in the huge space!
JH: After finding my way into the vast conference hall, I quickly realized that this show was about much more than technology: It was about how technology is being used to solve real world issues – and how we can think differently about the ability of businesses to leverage technology to solve some of our most complex problems. The potential has become the reality, and I was excited to spend the week exploring all of the ideas around me.
MK: I sat in on IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s keynote, where she declared we are at the beginning of an exponential growth shift that happens roughly every 25 years, when business and technology significantly change at the same time. She explained this growth arc is uniquely enabled by the powerful combination of data and AI – where learning becomes informed with data and makes the learner the disruptor, versus being the one disrupted.
AI is such a big idea and seems to have such big implications. What does it mean to you and its potential to change how businesses learn and grow?
AS: AI is a term that has been around for a very long time. Unfortunately, we are still using much of the same original terminology in this field (e.g., machine learning, natural language processing) to apply to some very new capabilities. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions is that there is any real “intelligence” in AI. At the root of all of the various technologies is a system that is trying to serve humans, to mimic or inform human intent, or to “behave” in a particular intended way. We struggle to describe such technologies and often start using human terms like “learning” in favor of other, perhaps more technically correct, terms like “goal optimization.” IBM has recently started to use the term “Augmented Intelligence,” which I think is a good start towards describing cognitive computing approaches (like Watson) to advise human agents, watching what advice they take or reject, “learning” from the human behavior, and converging on better advice that is more likely to be useful to human experts. At the same time, IBM is breaking some new ground in the ingestion of unstructured data, like words and pictures, to draw insights that can be very helpful for new emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.
JH: I totally agree with Anthony; the terminology we use to describe AI needs to change and how we think about it does as well. AI should not be positioned to replace the true, singular value that human beings bring to the table. Instead we need to consider AI as a tool that helps us do these uniquely human tasks better. When we can combine the right AI capabilities with our human experience, we can leverage a much broader set of information to make better decisions. Let the AI capabilities handle the tasks that are not solely human so that we have more bandwidth to focus on high-value decision-making.
MK: Jay, there was so much to take in at the event. What were some of the hottest topics that caught your attention?
JH: For me, the regulatory space was on fire at this event. We saw solutions that companies can implement to stay abreast of rapidly changing regulations – and to more effectively meet their compliance requirements. This is one area where AI is well-positioned to accelerate our ability to respond. Given the complexity and constant change in the regulatory space, those who are not paying attention risk being left behind.
I was also really excited about the real-world use cases being demonstrated for Blockchain, cloud security, and quantum computing. If this year’s event was any example, I fully expect to see real-world solutions leveraging these cutting-edge technologies being implemented in the coming year.
MK: Anthony, you had the awesome experience of having a conversation with Inderpal (oh, and another 700 people sitting in, plus more watching the livestream on social media!) about our rapidly changing world and how businesses can think about being more agile and data-driven using cognitive insights. What did you find most interesting about your dialogue?
AS: Of course, I have great respect for Inderpal Bhandari. He has that rare combination of intelligence, humility, and curiosity that is simply magnetic. The thing I found most interesting about our dialogue is how much the various topics have evolved since the last time we discussed them. We found ourselves talking about new advances in IoT, Blockchain, and cyber threats. Some of the things we were talking about were virtually undiscoverable in the art and science only a year ago.
MK: Was there anything that surprised you or that you learned that changed your opinion?
AS: One area that has advanced quite a bit is quantum computing. IBM has had a very strong presence in this field since the early days. During our discussion, Inderpal told me about a recent patent filing by IBM that gets to the heart of future methods to use quantum computers to produce a new form of encryption. This evolution is extremely important, because it has been known for quite some time that traditional encryption methods could be seriously compromised with the advent of quantum computers. We figured out how they might break encryption, but until now we have been reluctant to say how they might fix what they break … very exciting stuff!
JG: To jump off of Anthony’s thought, I learned that as we solve one set of problems (new encryption), we can create new ones (hacking new methods.) I think we need to realize that for all the advancements we make in cloud, AI, and pervasive computing technologies, we must anticipate the new threats we open up. Technology will always be a double-edged sword – and it is incumbent on all of us to be mindful of ensuring we anticipate the risk as well as the opportunity.
MK: Here’s a more fun question. As part of being at this event, we got to spend a lot of quality time with many of our IBM partners. What was one of the more memorable moments you took away from our time together?
IBM and Dun & Bradstreet team getting to know each other better at IBM Think 2018.
AS: Well, for me it was all about perspective. We tend to see ourselves professionally as our roles dictate. Spending serious quality time together as people gave us a chance to share a bit about who we are, our passions, our experiences outside work ... it was great. One of my most memorable moments was walking down Freemont Street (a bit of a crazy experience, I might add) discussing our first ever full-time jobs. How all of our lives had taken us in strange and unexpected directions was fascinating.
JH: Great point, Anthony! One of the best parts of these events is the time you get to spend with colleagues – getting to know them as real people and their very human stories. For me, dinner the night after the conference ended was a great time to decompress and build friendships. Of course, going to a great Chinese restaurant with someone who has spent a lot of time in China was a unique experience!
MK: Guys, this was a great exchange of ideas – thank you! Let’s end with this final question. Do you agree with Ginni’s prediction that businesses will find ways to integrate AI into nearly every aspect of how they work?
AS: I don’t agree entirely. I think it depends on how you define “integrate.” I still think there will be aspects of how we work that involve compassion, empathy, and creativity that will remain (at least for the foreseeable future) the provenance of actual humans. The wonder of any technology is not in finding all of the ways in which we can use it but in finding all of the ways in which we should use it.
JH: I think AI has a huge role to play in the future of almost every business. But it is important to recognize that in most cases, AI does not work alone: It depends on humans to build, train, and interact with it every step of the way. We should consider AI to be a set of capabilities that will help humans to do what we do better. Then we need to identify those use cases and problems that can leverage this symbiotic relationship between man and machine.
AI is arguably the hottest business topic of 2018. That’s because it has the potential for the largest impact on business and economic growth. PWC calls AI a $15.7 trillion game changer, projected to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030.
For many of us who fully immersed ourselves in the IBM Think 2018 experience, we were left with the lasting impression that AI will have an impact on our businesses – and our world. The question is, to what degree? It will be very interesting to see where this 25-year arc of exponential growth takes us.
It you’d like to learn more, watch these IBM Think 2018 session replays