Category Archives: technology

Cool things IBM does! Find out from our Apprentices some of the cool things IBM does!

IBM works broadly on Nanotechnology in a wide range of areas, I find it incredibly interesting as we move into the future, consumers are wanting smaller and smaller tech to make life easier and nanotechnology is helping this. Find out more

~ Gus Parkhouse

One thing I find interesting, is just how much we all come in to contact with something IBM has done on a daily basis, without necessarily knowing. For example, if you use your debit card to buy lunch, the chances are there is an IBM Product or Service involved in that transaction somewhere (in most cases at least). It’s this behind the scenes contribution that I’ve found interesting since joining IBM, as it prompts you to consider things you’ve never thought about before and you suddenly start realising just how much IBM do! Find out more here

~William Spiers

IBM is collaborating with car makers BMW to explore the use of Watson, IBM’s Artificial Intelligence technology in future BMW vehicles. The aim of this partnership is to work together to see how to improve and embed artificial intelligence in cars of tomorrow to make the overall driver experience better. Prototypes are being worked on right now in Germany and include things like:

  • Drivers beginning to ask questions to the vehicle in natural language while they are driving, enabling them to safely focus on the road while they interact with the vehicle
  • Incorporating real-time weather and traffic data to make route recommendations to the driver as he/she is driving
  • Learning about the driver’s preferences, needs and driving habits and the car adapts to these things as they change over time
    IBM & BMW Video

~ Richard Cure

IBM has a huge ‘women in tech’ community, which supports and celebrates the achievements of women who have pursued a career in technology. The community hosts many events throughout the year to encourage networking and career development for all women across IBM. This is one small part of what makes IBM such an inclusive place to work. Find out more

~ Sarah Naylor

Internally there are a lot of interesting people you wouldn’t meet outside of the company, who do amazing things. We have master inventors who come up with ideas and quite literally invent things (obvious I know), that you wouldn’t see outside of IBM and I feel should be shown off a lot more than it is. There are a lot of people doing a lot of great work in this company and a lot of the time, it’s hidden behind the veil of business to the general public.

~ John Longworth

Most people that look into IBM know about WATSON; an AI that is IBM’s flagship product. However, people are surprised by how many different ways IBM have implemented Watson. A personal favourite is Chef Watson. Chef Watson analyses current recipes and uses this info to intelligently suggest new recipes and flavour combinations that will go well. As most of us are food lovers I am looking forward to what happens next! Link to Chef Watson

~Joe Barry

 

Goals achieved for 2016 – Joe Barry

2016 was a year full of ups and downs, for Business, Politics and Sports alike. For me I will remember this as the year IBM helped me to achieve all my goals. When I started the year, I had three things I needed to do for my career and anything less than all 3 would be disappointing. January 2016 I was in Swindon working as an Industry Tester and by December 2016 I was a Project Management Officer (PMO) in Hursley. Allow me to talk through my journey.

  1. Improve my Work/Life Balance.
  2. Make an effort to learn new skills that would help me in the future.
  3. Determine my next career steps and start the journey towards it

Why would I or anyone need to improve my work/life balance?

Well in my case I was living in Portsmouth but working in Swindon. Monday I would travel up, staying a hotel and at 6pm on Friday I traveled back home. I found that I was always tired and quickly got bored of the routine. My family were under the impression that I was living the sweet life. I would always get the same comment.

“Staying in hotels must be great, don’t have to tidy up, use the laundry service for your clothes, food gets brought to your door”

This was all true but once you have been in hotels for a year the novelty had worn off.  When I finished the work day I would get back and start thinking about the stuff I needed to do the next day. I never switched off.

So, to remedy this I spoke to my IBM manager and asked for some help in getting a role closer to home that would still test me and progress my career. I got my ideal roles narrowed down to Project Management or Test Specialist and I used my network to speak to a couple of managers in Hursley. By April I had found a test role that fitted all my criteria however I needed some specific skills in order to be most effective at the role.

Therefore, I needed to make an effort to learn new skills that would help me perform in my ideal role.

The problem I faced was that I have only ever worked with client systems. I was not versed in IBM software or hardware. In this situation to have all the educational tools IBM provides was extremely beneficial. I spoke to the test manager and found out all the skills needed and found most of them on Think foundation and Code Academy online courses.

Finally, I was ready to fill my new role but was informed that I was no longer needed. The role had already been filled by someone else. This was because the end date on my previous role was too late and the test manager needed someone ASAP. I was still wanted for a test role but in the meantime my test manager used her network to find me a PMO role in Hursley.

I was relieved that I was able to carry on working in Hursley but wasn’t too sure about filling a PMO role, within the first day I realised it was the perfect position to determine my next career steps.

The PMO works with the Business and Project Managers to deal with contractor admin tasks. This ranges from on-boarding to access requests to contractor agency queries. As PMO I can use my connections with Project Managers and Technical contractors to figure out what I want to do and how I can do it. To gain a better insight to the project management role I attended an IT Infrastructure Library course that covers all types of management from service to operations and many others. I loved the course and wished I’d done it earlier. I have a new-found appreciation for how the business works and how many mover parts are in play to drive value to customers. I had already done a lot of technical courses but I enjoyed seeing them work in real life and what a Software Developer does day to day.

From my experiences both in technical and management I am currently finding a technical role that I would be happy with. I have the foundation in place to do so and other options available if I change my mind.

Thanks to IBM, I was given a lot of role options that would help improve my work life balance. IBM’s Think academy meant I was able to gather the skills to fill any role I desire. I can now see the bigger picture when it comes to business and a view of day to day tasks of technical professions all of which has helped me craft a destination for my career.

Joe Barry.

A Point of View on Cognitive Computing – Richard Cure

If 2015 was the year of Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social and Security, 2016 was the year of Cognitive.

Cognitive is the big word at IBM right now so I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my understanding of cognitive computing and how I see it relates to business and technology.

Firstly I hear you asking, what does cognitive even mean?

Well, cognitive is the word which is used to describe systems which can understand, reason and learn. Like all IT systems, cognitive systems rely on data, which is exponentially increasing every year – in fact nowadays most businesses probably have too much data – and more importantly aren’t sure how to best go about creating value from it. Cognitive systems help to reveal patterns and relationships across data which could previously not be discovered by other means.

As the explosion of data gets ever bigger, consultancies such as IBM are helping their clients understand and refine their data better by building or integrating cognitive systems into their existing systems so they get better value from their data. And it’s not just IBM – Microsoft has Cortana, Facebook is developing chatbots, Amazon has its Echo product which comes with its own assistant Alexa, and in fact you could argue those of us with iPhones already have pocket cognitive assistants in the form of Siri, so Apple are in on it too. It’s safe to say cognitive is a competitive market already.

Those IBMers reading may well (and should!) know that Watson is IBM’s lead brand in cognitive. Watson (the question and answer based computer system) famously beat human contestants on the US game show Jeopardy in 2011 which gave way to its own dedicated business units shortly after. Today, thousands of people work on Watson and its various umbrella products such as Watson Analytics and Watson Developer Cloud at IBM across the world.

So how does it work?

At a high level, Watson is a mix of different systems and technologies – leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language capabilities. It understands questions asked from end-users – in a variety of different languages! – by using semantic parsing, which is fancy for breaking up the words in the question to understand what the question is asking. It then works off a “corpus” of knowledge, which is made up of structured data, such as tables and databases, and unstructured data, such as articles and audio. Watson then uses advanced computational techniques to very quickly extract information related to the question from its corpus.

Finally, it analyses what it understands it has been asked against what it knows to be correct and produces answers with a confidence level of accuracy – a bit like a super-powered search engine – but you don’t have to go through each result to find what you are looking for, Watson can do this for you which is what makes it so powerful.

However for this to work, firstly a given instance of Watson to be used must be “trained” using a variety of sources – human experts teaching it the right answers to questions, machine learning techniques, and feeding interactions between real life users and Watson into its corpus of knowledge. It also needs to hold data based on the questions it may receive. The advantage of this is that Watson can become very specialised in a certain areas, for example medicine or law. The disadvantage is that it requires a lot of time (and money!) to train it to answer questions and know what is actually correct because well, even Watson can’t know everything.

So overall, Watson is a system which runs analytics against a body of data to get insights from what it has been taught to be correct from experts, evidence, and real interaction, and can estimate a level of confidence to potential responses to its requests. The end goal of this technology is to inform experts to make better decisions, not to replace them, especially in data intensive industries.

The reason why these new-age systems are called cognitive is that they display very similar capabilities to the way the human brain responds to requests to do something. For example every time you must make a decision to do something you are making it based on from what you learnt from experts (teachers, education), from evidence (what you know to be correct, your values), and from interactions (your life experiences) and respond accordingly.

Already IBM has exploited Watson in almost every industry, notably in healthcare and automotive industries. At a recent conference in Las Vegas called “World of Watson”, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and a Japanese professor announced that by using Watson they discovered a patient was suffering from a different, rare form of leukemia by feeding the patient’s data into Watson. Ultimately they were able to treat the patient accordingly after doctors by themselves were unable to come to a diagnosis, therefore potentially saving the patient’s life. How cool is that!

 

It’s all very well having this cool technology, however to gain approval for projects involving cognitive, there must be a good business case. In my opinion, these are the main benefits to business:

Customers have better engagement experiences with cognitive systems. To illustrate, I’ll use an example of a situation that probably frustrates all of us. When dialling customer service to get a quote from an insurance company, instead of being put on hold for half an hour and losing a potential customer, we could access a cognitive chatbot who could handle the initial interaction and gather the simple details that every quote needs, speeding up the time taken to handle the quote. But if it got into any trouble or could not handle the interaction we could be put through to a human user.

Decision makers are better informed by cognitive systems. Business leaders can gain relevant insights, tailored to their industry, from cognitive systems helping them understand more about their customers, markets, and what people are saying about their products and services from different sources of data – and respond to this information, often in real time.

They help us to explore and discover about the world and ourselves even more. Cognitive systems are making their way into the healthcare industry, assisting doctors and nurses to keep us healthier, and travel companies are creating tailored experiences for each customer by pairing cognitive systems with the vast amount of data they hold about different countries, cities and travel options like flights and trains.

 

It’s obvious that these systems do have potential, however we must be careful in the way we use them. What they can’t do is analyse the risk that might not be represented in the data such as environments, people and cultures.

There are still limitations to these technologies – e.g. if a predictive model suggests to buy oil in the Middle East because it is likely to be cheaper than buying oil elsewhere in the world, but the country is in conflict and its leaders are in danger and is not represented in the model, then this must be factored into the decision – in the end you can’t hold machines accountable for bad decisions.

Furthermore, I would say that smart as computers may become, there will always be a humanity gap between humans and computers, as they will always lack fundamental human abilities such as consciousness and those intangibles things which make us human such as feelings and thoughts.

So there’s a way to go before we see the film “I, Robot” come to life.

 

Given the rapid pace of innovation in the tech industry, I also believe that cognitive systems will become more accessible to the public not too far in the future too, just in the same way that the smartphone did in the previous decade.

So overall, I see exciting times ahead in technology at IBM and at the cutting edge in this industry. Happy December to everyone and a very Merry Christmas to you all! See you in the new year,

Richard Cure.