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Cognitive computing can lead to thoughtful solutions, expert says

SALT LAKE CITY — The most vexing and important issues of the present and the future likely will be solved using the power of supercomputers, a renowned expert says.

In fact, supercomputers already are being used to tackle problems in disciplines such as medicine, education, energy exploration and criminal investigation, explained Katharine Frase.

"Suppose I'm in a security application and have cameras everywhere," Frase said. "Imagine the poor human who's trying to watch 17 screens at a time. But the (supercomputer) system can digest those (information) streams and point to which … screens I should be looking at."

That kind of readily available technology, she said, is leading to increased capabilities in policing and other disciplines "in an actionable way."

Frase was the keynote speaker Tuesday at SC16, the top international convention showcasing how high-performance computing, networking, storage and analysis are advancing commerce, education, medicine, scientific research, space exploration, weather forecasting and many other disciplines.

Frase served as chief technology officer and vice president of public sector at IBM from March 2013 to September 2015. She also led strategy and business development for IBM’s Watson Education unit, providing solutions to improve student outcomes and support instructors in education.

Cognitive computing — sometimes called artificial intelligence — defines a new relationship between systems and humans in which higher-level thinking, research and decision-making results from systems that learn and can offer advice, Frase said.

“It’s not necessarily (using) supercomputing in a big science way,” she explained. “It is using the systems to bring the information together that the human needs to do their job.”

Frase said cognitive computing has now crossed into an era when innovators can take pride in the advances of enhanced computing capacity, as well as release the unprecedented power on some of the most complex problems facing humanity.

“Watson and cognitive computing in general can serve significantly in every single arena in which we grapple with multilayered, data-intensive problems, (such as) how to best treat cancers, how to adapt to conditions brought about by climate change, how to quickly and effectively harness new kinds of sustainable energy,” she said.

“Now more than ever, visionary thinking will drive an endless and transformative array of applications for Watson and cognitive computing in general, along with whatever comes next,” Frase said.