Technology trends: the potential of cognitive technologies

Think Progress Team

Wednesday 15 March 2017

95 of the world’s 100 largest enterprise software firms will integrate at least one form of cognitive technology into their product line-up by 2020. That’s according to a 2016 Deloitte study of future technology trends in the Middle East. It predicts an increase of 31 per cent compared to 2015, when only 64 of the top 100 had rolled out cognitive technology.


What is cognitive technology, and how are enterprise software companies in the Middle East deploying it?

First, an important distinction must be made: cognitive technology is not artificial intelligence (AI). AI enables – or will enable – machines to be self-sufficient and independent of any human input. Cognitive technology means specific tasks that could previously only be carried out by humans can now be performed by computer systems.

The human element is the crucial differentiation. Last year, IBM held the Watson Analyst Day at its Cambridge, Massachusetts biotechnology hub. Watson is IBM’s cognitive technology construct – not, the company is keen to emphasise, an AI construct. As VDC Research’s Steve Hoffenberg writes, Watson’s role in helping evaluate cancer treatments demonstrates the fundamental reason behind that differentiation. An AI system would have told the doctor which treatment path to take. Watson instead provided information to help the doctor make a better decision.

Away from the healthcare space, numerous cognitive technology fields are advancing, including rules-based systems used to analyse and interpret big data, computer vision, a crucial element of self-driving vehicles, and cognitive robotics, one of the most visible forms of which can be seen in robotic vacuum cleaners.

Machine learning: What it really means for businesses

In the Middle East, three specialised cognitive technologies are gaining traction. Machine learning, the field most closely associated with sci-fi notions of robots outwitting people, is much less daunting. It means computer systems have the capability to perform tasks without following explicit instructions. Instead, they analyse data and build up a store of responses based on the work they carry out. As they do more, they get better at predicting trends, spotting anomalies and personalising solutions.

A famous early example of machine learning is Netflix’s personalised recommendations feature. As a viewer watches movies and TV shows, a detailed personal preference pattern is built up and the algorithm that generates tailored suggestions becomes more accurate.

Branching off from machine learning are natural language processing and speech recognition. The former sees computers able to interpret text as people would. For example, they could extract information to be used to inform stock trading options, provide enhanced spam filtering and aid human-to-computer interactions by better recognising questions as they are entered into search engines.

Research firm MarketsandMarkets predicts that between now and 2021, the Middle East and Africa will offer the highest growth in natural language processing. Significant driving factors, the report suggests, are increasing data generation in businesses, demand for improved customer experience and the adoption of connected mobile devices.

Speech recognition is similarly reliant on machine learning to enable a computer to accurately interpret and transcribe natural language as it is spoken. According to statistics portal Statista, the market for such technology in the Middle East and Africa is set to almost quadruple in value between 2017 and 2024, from US$105 million to US$397 million.

The future of technology can be found in the Middle East

In Dubai, a cognitive computing service has been launched to speed up business registration and answer queries. The platform understands natural language, quickly analyses massive data stores and provides information that helps users decide the best courses of action.

Wesam Lootah, CEO of the Smart Dubai Government Establishment, called cognitive computing the future of technology. “Machine learning technology […] is powering opportunities for enriched customer engagement and efficient mining of big data that can accelerate innovation and enhance decision-making for customers, businesses and city leaders.”

Why should your IT team look to these sectors? You’ll be able to automate more, freeing up frontline staff to concentrate on complex issues. Machines capable of natural language processing could process notes while employees use the insights gained to make better decisions, for instance.

Your whole operation could be lifted – existing systems will be refined by the implementation of cognitive technology. You’ll also be able to do more and do it better, whether that’s identifying fraudulent transactions faster and more accurately, or pulling previously hidden insights from big data.