IBM has been taking heat because its AI platform, Watson, has not produced groundbreaking results for cancer research. However, I recently came across the company's Science for Social Good fellowship program, and think that perhaps we're being too critical of "Big Blue", overall.
A quick history lesson. I believe we’re at the very beginning of the 4th Industrial Revolution – which will be led by AI. We’re all familiar with how these industrial revolutions work: every hundred years or so, society finds new ways to use technology at scale that leads to dramatic, tangible improvements in our lives:=
- Late 1700s – Steam replaced manual labor and horsepower
- Late 1800s – Electricity improved that steam infrastructure
- Late 1900s – Networks of computers and electronics transformed how we worked, traded, communicated, shopped, and even found our soulmates
Less than 50 years after that revolution computational power and data aggregation is so great that we’re ready to take another leap, led by AI to remove tedious and time-intensive tasks from our lives to solve humanity’s problems in better ways.
AI is still relatively far off from a defining moment similar to the improvement brought by the hum of steam engines across the continental United States, Henry Ford producing an assembly line that would make cars accessible to mass markets, or laying claim to hundreds of marriages per day. Don’t get me wrong, AI is certainly having successes – but they aren’t at a horizontal, mass market scale. Success is found in the vertical, and very specific, application of the technologies at play on a particular problem.
This brings me back to IBM’s Science for Social Good program. I applaud that IBM is partnering its scientists and engineers with academic fellows and subject matter experts to solve very specific problems with the technologies that make up AI and Machine Learning. As we’re finding with our work at Gravyty, the more we hone these emerging technologies to tackle very targeted challenges, the better we understand how to adapt and evolve them for other uses. As advancements in transfer learning progress, soon these myriad vertical solutions will morph into broader horizontal ones.
I think it’s premature to close the book on IBM because we’re not seeing amazing results from Watson on the medical front. As I’m finding in my own research, AI progress is being made on many fronts – continuously. Just because progress on the main stage isn’t as big as we hope for, doesn’t mean that innovation and extremely exciting progress isn’t being made in other areas.
IBM’s been around for a while. You might even say that it’s the grandfather of the 3rd Industrial Revolution. I’d be surprised if the company wasn’t also a major player in the 4th Industrial Revolution that’s just getting started.