“Perhaps the greatest promise offered to businesses today stems from cognitive computing technology,” write staff members from Ohio University. “These systems can process unstructured information in ways like humans, but much faster. They understand language patterns and sensory inputs, including text, pictures, and audio. The systems are already improving employee and customer experiences, streamlining new product innovation, enabling health care providers to spend more time with patients, and even saving lives by identifying customer safety issues before they cause accidents. Cognitive computing, also known as AI or smart machines, will impact the economy across many industries.” Admittedly, some people use the terms “cognitive computing” and “artificial intelligence” interchangeably; however, they have different objectives. Artificial intelligence is the broader umbrella term under which cognitive computing lies. At the highest level, AI researchers are seeking to develop systems that can reason on their own and, someday perhaps, achieve a level of sentience. Cognitive computing researchers have a more modest objective — building systems that augment human intelligence in order to help them make better decisions in complex or ambiguous situations.
Applications of cognitive technologies
Kathleen Walch (@kath0134), Managing Partner & Principal Analyst at Cognilytica, observes, “One of the challenges for those tracking the artificial intelligence industry is that, surprisingly, there’s no accepted, standard definition of what artificial intelligence really is.” Since there is confusion about the term AI, including the notion that all AI could eventually turn on humankind, Walch prefers the term “cognitive technologies.” She explains, “Rather than trying to build an artificial intelligence, enterprises are leveraging cognitive technologies to automate and enable a wide range of problem areas that require some aspect of cognition. Generally, you can group these aspects of cognition into three ‘P’ categories, borrowed from the autonomous vehicles industry.” The three “Ps” are:
Perceive – Understand the environment around you and input coming from sensors. Walch notes, “Perception-related cognitive technologies include image and object recognition and classification (including facial recognition), natural language processing and generation, unstructured text and information processing, robotic sensor and IoT signal processing, and other forms of perceptual computing.”
Predict – Understand patterns to predict what will happen next and learn from different iterations to improve the overall performance of the system. According to Walch, “Prediction-focused cognitive technologies utilize a range of machine learning, reinforcement learning, big data, and statistical approaches to process large volumes of information, identify patterns or anomalies, and suggest next steps and outcomes.”
Plan – Use what was learned and perceived to make decisions and plan next steps. “Planning-focused cognitive technologies,” Walch explains, “include decision-making models and methods that try to mimic how humans make decisions.”
Swamini Kulkarni offers a simpler explanation of how cognitive technologies can be applied. He writes, “Cognitive computing systems are used to find solutions to complex situations where answers are uncertain or ambiguous, using computerized models that simulate the human cognition process.” The staff at Ohio University put together the following infographic to demonstrate how pervasive cognitive technologies are becoming in our lives.
Cognitive technologies and business
Ed Burns (@EdBurnsTT), Executive Editor at TechTarget, reiterates what business executives should already know about implementing new technologies — make sure you can make a business case for implementing it. He quotes Hadley Reynolds, managing director and co-founder of the Cognitive Computing Consortium, who stated, “A lot of people are looking at cognitive computing as a bright, shining object that you can apply to anything, and problems will go away. But what we hear daily is that, if you don’t have a very good idea of what you’re trying to accomplish with cognitive projects, whatever efforts you make are likely to end in failure.” That said, all types of businesses are finding cognitive technologies very useful. At Enterra Solutions®, we define cognitive computing as a combination of semantic intelligence (i.e., machine learning, natural language processing, and ontologies) and computational intelligence (i.e., advanced mathematical techniques). Our cognitive system, the Enterra Cognitive Core™, is a system that can Sense, Think, Act, and Learn®. Like most cognitive technologies, our system is primarily aimed at helping businesses make better decisions.
Bain analysts, Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer (@lorisherer), assert if you can improve a company’s decision making you can dramatically improve its bottom line. They explain, “The best way to understand any company’s operations is to view them as a series of decisions.” They add, “We know from extensive research that decisions matter — a lot. Companies that make better decisions, make them faster and execute them more effectively than rivals nearly always turn in better financial performance. Not surprisingly, companies that employ advanced analytics to improve decision making and execution have the results to show for it.” Gerrit Kazmaier (@gerritkazmaier), Executive Vice President of SAP Analytics, Database, and Data Management at SAP, agrees decision-making is important and cognitive technologies can help. He writes, “Making the right choice requires a company to understand every aspect of its business — in the past, the present, and the future — and to recognize the value of the data available to them and what it tells them about their business. Ultimately, the aim of analytics within the enterprise should therefore not simply be to report on what has been, but to enable everyone at every level of an organization to make decisions with confidence.” Cognitive technologies can help them achieve that goal.
 Ohio University Staff, “Cognitive Computing is Changing Business — Are You Ready?” Visualistan, February 2020.
 Kathleen Walch, “Why Cognitive Technology May Be A Better Term Than Artificial Intelligence,” Forbes, 22 December 2019.
 Swamini Kulkarni, “Cognitive Computing Is Not Hype: It Is A Must-Have For Organisations,” Compare the Cloud, 24 July 2019.
 Ed Burns, “What businesses need to know about cognitive computing systems,” TechTarget, 7 April 2017.
 Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer, “Creating value through advanced analytics,” Bain Brief, 11 February 2015.
 Gerrit Kazmaier, “From Augmented Analytics to Confident Decisions,” Manufacturing Business Technology, 2 May 2019.