CHARLOTTE – Paul Zikopoulos, vice president of big data and cognitive systems at IBM, is coming to the Queen City, and one of the leading thinkers on the subjects of big data, AI, deep learning, as well as the future of analytics will have much to say.

Some samples:

  • “IBM does not believe that the future belongs to the few.”
  • “[T]he world is great at collecting data, but not so much at decisioning on it.”
  • “Without question, new technology will eliminate work; it always has.”

WRAL TechWire provides an exclusive interview with one of Big Blue’s best-known thought leaders ahead of his delivering the afternoon keynote at the third annual Analytics Frontiers Conference on March 21, organized by the Data Science Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “Into the Mysterious World of a ‘Thinking’ Business” is the theme, with “Thinking” in quotes as IBM has branded Think for years.

Here’s our interview transcript, edited to enhance readability. Plus, for more insight into his thinking we’ve incorporated two videos from a previous presentation by Zikopoulos.

  • You’re giving the afternoon keynote, “Into the Mysterious World of a “Thinking” Business.” What are the main themes of your talk, and what will you discuss?

I will talk about how the world is great at collecting data, but not so much at decisioning on it. This leads to what I call the cost of not knowing. I will then talk more about how the modality of interaction with technology is changing and the effects on future users of analytics (which should be everyone in your company).

Organizations have got to understand these concepts in order to take their next step as a business, attract the right talent, and to achieve all that is possible using analytics.

Once data is a boardroom conversation, data will comes from places you could have never imaged. Technologies like Blockchain and IOT will continue to add more data to the conversation and we will go from a world where we tried to find a needle in a haystack, to an era where we thought we’d find more needles by adding more hay, to a world where the task is to find a needle in a stack of needles.

For example, there are over 20 million publications on glioblastoma. While there are thousands of trained professionals in the world that are capable of treating this disease, for even the top clinician in the world, how could she or he possibly know all of this research and be able to cognitively access it when presented with a case? This is an example of searching for a needle in a stack of needles.

There are examples in tax law, cancer research, case law, and many other functions. And yet, advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence and cognition can help discover and use a specific needle amongst all of the other needles in the stack. This is one of the most transformative technologies that we’ll see rise to prominence in the next decade.

In my entire 23 years working in analytics, I’ve never seen a moment this big. Not even Hadoop [collection of open-source software utilities that facilitate using a network of many computers to solve problems involving massive amounts of data and computation. – Wikipedia] had this effect.

  • What are other technologies that will be important in the next decade?

Blockchain, a new trust ledger, will bring millions to the economy, put some companies out of business, force others to modify who they are, and help even bigger companies slash processing times and costs.

Trust will be a competitive asset. Blockchain isn’t just about cybersecurity. It’s about a trust ledger, so surely involves cybersecurity trust (stuff is encrypted, immutable), but it’s trust of parties and information, too.

Blockchain will do for trust what the Internet did for transactions. Dozens of companies won’t be around in a decade because of the technology. At the same time, blockchain can and likely will enhance trust of anything—not just money.

Zikopoulos video: “Watch some lighter moments from my Insights 2015 Keynote on Hybrid Analytics” (See full video below)

And then there’s the Internet of Things, or IOT. We’ve gone from a world where everyone can talk to everyone to a world where everything talks to everything. That’s changing the world today, and will do so even more in the next decade and beyond. From making the streets of San Diego more environmentally-friendly from a lighting perspective to detecting crime, to the city’s streetlights operating to help me find a parking spot, and even introducing the world to Cherry Sprite, this is real life stuff already done with IOT.

The gating factor is that too often the ability to know more is held for the privileged few—IBM is pushing to democratize all of this stuff for the many.

I am going to give you one more: INFRASTRUCTURE MATTERS. It didn’t used to. People called them commodity servers. But if you look at the processing power needed to deliver the technologies I just mentioned, it’s not just about faster CPUs. Those will help. But we are moving to an off-chip era.

That’s where openness matters. Innovation of open communities like OpenPower will change how infrastructure is done. The bottom line—our world will be defined by algorithms. Companies won’t brag about their merchandising, or event their customer service. Behind closed doors, they will brag about their algorithms. These algorithms will be going through rapid iteration, making them more accurate, yielding a steeper data-understanding curve. We will all start to know more.

  • How is IBM preparing to democratize technology?

IBM is a business remaking itself on platforms infused with digital intelligence. An enterprise whose operations and processes are designed to learn with intelligent systems. A company of experts whose knowledge is augmented by systems that learn. Around this are key principals.

IBM does not believe that the future belongs to the few. We believe it belongs to all of us—and we translate that belief into practice and policy.

There is responsibility—data is the world’s new natural resource, and as it is unleashed by the maturation of AI, data holds the potential to generate growth, prosperity and societal progress.

But it will only do so if the world can trust that the data that is being collected, managed and analyzed is being done so responsibly. At a time when many are questioning the power and behavior of some companies, IBM is stepping forward as a responsible steward of data and AI.

We believe that AI’s purpose is to augment, not replace, human intelligence.

We are clear on the need for transparency—on where AI is used, who trained it and what data sets were ingested.

We also believe that data and the insights it generates belong to their creators.

No one should have to give up ownership or control of their data to benefit from AI and cloud computing.

  • How will these technologies impact people’s day-to-day lives, for example, their jobs?

Without question, new technology will eliminate work; it always has. At the same time, new job categories will emerge. The challenge, however, is that AI will transform the skills required for all jobs. There still will be doctors, lawyers, salespeople, teachers, and engineers. But the tasks and tools they need to perform their work will be different.

  • So technology isn’t just going to be important for those that work for technology companies, is it?

Rob Thomas wrote a tremendous book called “The End of Tech Companies.”  It’s a cheeky title, but what it gets at is that we will all be tech companies. Whether you are a hard coder or you’re a constant clicker, you need to hear what is going on, and you need to learn more about technology. Learning never ends. Everyone has to get on that. I think it’s a law of thermodynamics—without exception, everything requires additional energy to maintain itself.

Zikopoulos video: Watch full version of his 2015 keynote on Hybrid Analytics