We are at a unique point in human history.
The rapid digitization of information, along with the proliferation of distributed devices, is generating unprecedented quantities of data. On a global basis, we now create more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data each day, with 80 percent of it in an “unstructured” format, including blogs and texts, audio and video transmissions, and a constant stream of signals from embedded sensors and wearable technology.
All of this data is a valuable raw material—a new natural resource. Traditional computing systems, which must be programmed and re-programmed to execute specific tasks, are unable to adequately exploit this resource. New systems are needed, systems that learn and evolve as they ingest all of this data, without the need for additional programming.
Advances in computer science have now made these systems a reality. Computers can mimic how humans process information and learn from prior experience. This capability is ushering in a new era in computing history—what IBM refers to as the era of cognitive computing.
The rapid digitization of information, along with the proliferation of distributed devices, is generating unprecedented quantities of data. On a global basis, we now create more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data each day. All of this data is a valuable raw material—a new natural resource.
IBM’s Watson technology is the most sophisticated example so far of such a cognitive system. In 2011, the technology bested two grand champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, and it is now being broadly commercialized.
Watson can ingest vast quantities of information from various sources, interpret and evaluate the data, and then present evidence-based options to human experts to assist in their decision making.
This combination of human expertise and Watson’s cognitive technology has the potential to solve previously unsolvable problems and to transform companies, industries, government, and professions. Within professions, it allows experts in medicine, law, finance, education, and other fields to broaden their knowledge base, keep pace with constant changes in the regulatory landscape, sharpen their insights, and move more decisively in time-critical situations.
Already, doctors using Watson can rapidly access millions of pages of up-to-date clinical data, medical journals, drug trial information, treatment protocols, and patient data and be presented with evidence-based treatment options to consider, all in real time. The sources of the data and reasoning used to generate the options are available for review, allowing the physician to quickly understand and evaluate results.
IBM also plans to deploy Watson solutions for the legal profession. The ability to quickly make sense of vast amounts of complex and rapidly changing data and use evidence-based hypothesis generation should be appealing to lawyers. As with doctors and other professionals, lawyers can no longer depend on traditional computing technology to keep pace with the amount and complexity of data that may be relevant in their decision making.
Watson will be able to assist lawyers in handling compliance matters, legal research, diligence, contract management, and litigation. For example, in handling a compliance matter, in-house lawyers or paralegals assisted by Watson could have access to a complete and up-to-date regulatory corpus, immediately accessible at the point of interaction with the business, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This could help streamline and improve decision making regarding routine labor, tax, audit, or environmental matters.
Law firm associates assisted by Watson will be able to conduct legal research by asking natural language questions and getting suggested answers in real time, ranked by confidence level and including the supporting evidence. With junior associates still spending up to 35 percent of their time on research (some of which is never billed to clients), this could help drive more consistent and efficient results and allow lawyers to focus on potentially higher-value matters.
Watson interacts with humans in ways that are far more intuitive to us than any previous system, and its performance improves the more it is used.
Commercial lawyers seeking to resolve a dispute could use Watson to better identify and understand outcome-determinative factors in a potential litigation and more accurately assess settlement values. This could reduce costs and result in better decision making during dispute resolution.
Watson interacts with humans in ways that are far more intuitive to us than any previous system, and its performance improves the more it is used. IBM believes that Watson and other cognitive systems will create a new partnership between humans and computers that will enhance and scale human expertise.
In the legal and other professions, Watson will help to democratize and spread knowledge, making professionals more effective and efficient. Ultimately, it may improve and accelerate the legal apprenticeship model. At IBM, we believe that the cognitive era will have a profound impact on the human endeavor.
Scott Ferrauiola is the Associate General Counsel of the IBM Watson Group.