Cognitive Systems Institute

The Cognitive Systems Institute, which is a new set of IBM university programs in conjunction with IBM Research and the Watson Business Unit,  will focus faculty collaborators on building and evaluating cognitive assistants for every profession.   Artificial cognitive systems, or cognitive systems for short,  exhibit capabilities and/or perform tasks deemed intelligent by natural cognitive systems, such as people.  Professional cognitive assistants are cognitive systems designed to boost the productivity and creativity of professionals.   Cognitive systems researchers belong to a special profession, which improves building and evaluating cognitive systems, working on teams with other professionals, such as computer and information research scientists, human factors engineers and ergonomists,   sociologistsoperations research analystsmathematicians, statisticians, industrial engineers, and others.

The Cognitive Systems Institute will focus on professional cognitive assistants that exhibit the three L’s – language, learning, and levels.  Professional cognitive assistants should interact via natural language, learn by ingesting documents, and make recommendations with confidence levels.   For example, the IBM Watson Jeopardy! winning  cognitive system answered natural language questions, ingested Wikipedia and other sources to learn, and provided confidence levels with its answers.  The IBM Watson group is working on cognitive systems to help doctors, financial planners, researchers, and even chefs.   IBM Research is also working on cognitive system that will spar with debaters and politicians to help boost their performance.

The new Cognitive Systems Institute programs will be launched in late August, and will be designed to (1) help prepare faculty to set up Watson/Cognitive aligned courses, with the goal of enabling student teams to develop cognitive apps as part of the Watson Ecosystem,  (2) help prepare faculty and their top graduate students to submit aligned collaborative research proposals to funding agencies, with the goal of developing cognitive systems that boost the productivity and creativity of specific types of professions and professional teams (potentially a key part of what NSF calls “smart service systems”),  (3) help create linkages between faculty and IBM Researchers to define cognitive system grand challenges with clear measurable business and societal impact that might be achievable in the next 3-5 years, with the goal of further advancing the field of cognitive systems research and increasing aligned national research investments.  For example of a grand challenge, IBM’s Watson Jeopardy! system (2011) required close collaboration with seven universities to develop it, and it had a very clear measurable set of performance metrics that focused everyone across organizations and helped make decision-making easier.  For this last item, we are also (4) exploring academic interest in having an IBM-Researcher(s)-In-Residence at their universities, with the goal of accelerating collaborative research and achieving measurable grand challenge objectives.

Please let me know which of items 1 – 4 might be of most interest, or if your interests are in some other direction, and we can help guide you to the right IBMers to follow-up (for example, some universities already have data sets ready to be ingested, and investors interested in developing specific applications, so they are exploring the Watson Developer Cloud for Enterprise, as a path to get on site training and developer licenses more quickly).  Building cognitive systems to boost the performance of professionals, including research and teaching faculty at universities, is likely to be an important application area, and will have associated research grand challenges.

Jim Spohrer (

Leave a Reply