Cognitive Business at UIC Liautaud

Do Jeopardy! fans out there ever wonder what became of IBM Watson after its 2011 game show victory? Far from simply resting on its laurels, IBM Watson has been developed toward a wide range of applications in the public and private sectors, including a number of apps based in the Watson technology. The growth of IBM Watson has also reached UIC Liautaud, where the Watson system and the field of cognitive computing were the focus of Professor Aris Ouksel’s graduate IDS course last fall. “Cognitive computing is an old idea,” says Ouksel, “and it’s also the future of how we think about computing.”

Ouksel traces the history of cognitive computing back to the early 20th century. “Even during World War II, you had someone like Vannevar Bush looking at the tremendous amount of data being collected by the United States, and asking, how can we get useful information out of this?” As everyone in the business community now attests, the 21st century has become the era of big data. “Every field - government, private enterprise, healthcare, education and so on - has huge volumes of unexplored data. Cognitive computing skills have never been in higher demand.”

To meet this demand, Ouksel’s course had a dual focus. “We started with the technical aspects of Watson, the issues of natural language, of statistical analysis and of how the system reasons.” From there, Ouksel says, the students learned how to translate their knowledge of IBM Watson into applications and business plans. “The question isn’t only whether you have a good application or product, but what is your target market, how will you reach it, what are your revenue mechanisms.”

Over the course of the semester, six student teams presented their progress to the class on a weekly basis. At the end of the semester, the teams debuted their work to a panel of IDS faculty and representatives from Deloitte. The projects differed greatly, from an Android/iOS app for DLSR support to apps for fitness tracking, searching patents and applying first aid.

“The project was good for our partner at Deloitte,” says Ouksel, “in fact, he’s now working on Watson for IBM, and this is good for future collaborations in the course. But the project was also good for our students. Deloitte offered them jobs, and other companies offered them jobs, including some startups interested in cognitive computing.”

Ouksel plans to offer the course again next year, and regularly in the future. “The course was obviously very valuable for Liautaud students. And if students can work with these systems, they're going to become very valuable to all kinds of different organizations."