What is Cognitive Computing and How Does it Work?

Table of Contents

Cognitive computing, facilitating human-machine collaboration, processes diverse data types. These systems stand apart from structured data in databases and unstructured content like text, images, audio, and video.

Their unique trait lies in in-depth analysis and learning from this varied data pool. 

In conventional AI, intelligence hinges on human teaching. However, this reliance disappears in cognitive computing as these systems autonomously learn and educate themselves from the data pool.

This article offers insight into cognitive computing, exploring its characteristics, advantages, and applications.

What is Cognitive Computing?

Cognitive computing, a subfield of AI, stands at a higher plane, aiming to infuse human understanding, knowledge, and judgment into computational processes.

It merges cognitive and computer science to replicate thought processes in a computerized system. It relies on cognitive science-based algorithms as a practical pathway to artificial intelligence (AI).

Essentially, these systems process text, images, and natural speech. They process information and provide explanations rooted in reasoning, effectively replicating the brain’s functions. 

Leveraging AI, neural networks, natural language processing, object recognition, robotics, machine learning, and deep learning, cognitive computing systems seamlessly blend self-learning algorithms, data analysis, and pattern recognition.

Their ability to continuously absorb vast datasets empowers computers to tackle issues and offer tailored solutions autonomously.

The primary role of cognitive computing is swift data processing, furnishing precise responses to customized queries, and offering intelligent, personalized recommendations.

These capabilities find practical use in popular products such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Siri, and ChatGPT. Moreover, cognitive computing proves valuable in applications like risk assessment and facial recognition.

This comprehensive approach allows cognitive computing to understand more than simple data, reaching higher levels of human-like comprehension and problem-solving.

Video source: YouTube/TEDx Talks

Cognitive Computing vs. AI: What is the Difference?

While sharing common roots in technology, cognitive computing, and AI diverge in their approach and purpose.

Cognitive computing seeks to complement human intelligence, fostering a symbiotic relationship, while AI often aims to replace human intervention in specific tasks through automation.

The choice between the two depends on the context and the level of human involvement required in a given application.

Let’s check the distinct differences between cognitive computing and artificial intelligence and their similarities in the table below:

Cognitive ComputingArtificial Intelligence
TechnologyRelies on advanced machine learning algorithms and NLP, enabling it to understand and interpret unstructured data, much like the human brain.Encompasses a broader spectrum, incorporating various technologies such as neural networks and deep learning algorithms, aiming to simulate human intelligence in machines.
InteractionEngages in natural and intuitive interactions, often understanding context and subtext, making its responses more user-friendly and human-like.Interaction can vary, from rule-based systems to complex algorithms, often lacking the nuanced understanding of context that cognitive computing exhibits.
ApproachFocuses on mimicking human thought processes, emphasizing pattern recognition, data interpretation, and context-aware decision-making.Includes a wider array of techniques, including problem-solving, logical reasoning, and learning from experience, aiming for general intelligence in machines.
FocusFocuses on enhancing human abilities by processing extensive data to aid decision-making and offer insights. Strives for autonomy, aiming to develop machines capable of independent task execution and decision-making without human involvement.
PurposePrimarily designed to collaborate with humans, enhancing their cognitive abilities, improving decision accuracy, and simplifying complex processes.Pursues tasks autonomously, aiming to replicate or surpass human intelligence, with applications ranging from gaming to autonomous vehicles.
ApplicationsOften used in fields like healthcare for diagnostics, customer service for personalized interactions, and business intelligence for data analysis, focusing on improving human-oriented tasks.Widely applied across sectors, including robotics, natural language processing, and image recognition, focusing on automating tasks and problem-solving.
Video source: YouTube/Nitor Infotech

How Cognitive Computing Works

Cognitive computing revolves around understanding unstructured data, defying the confines of conventional databases.

Natural language processing (NLP) deciphers human language, enabling meaningful interactions. 

Coupled with speech recognition and image, these systems interpret words, auditory cues, and visuals, ensuring versatile communication.

Cognitive computing integrates several basic components that collaborate seamlessly to construct intelligent systems capable of handling unstructured data and emulating human-like understanding.

These elements encompass:

  1. Natural language processing (NLP): NLP enables computers to understand human language, encompassing tasks such as generation, language comprehension, translation, and sentiment analysis. This technology enables cognitive systems to comprehend written and spoken language, enabeling effective humans-machines communication.
  1. Machine learning: Machine learning harnesses algorithms that employ systems to acquire knowledge from data, improve their capabilities as they accumulate experience, and autonomously generate forecasts or choices without the need for specific manual coding. This facet is indispensable for the evolution and adaptability of cognitive systems in response to experience and new data.
  1. Pattern recognition: Cognitive systems utilize methods of pattern recognition to identify patterns, trends, and anomalies in extensive and complex datasets. This ability allows them to extract valuable insights from unstructured data, even when these patterns are hidden from human analysts.
  1. Contextual understanding: Cognitive systems leverage contextual understanding to grasp the broader significance of information. This capability enables machines to interpret data effectively, offering relevant responses by considering contextual details, interconnections, and outcomes.
  1. Adaptive learning: Cognitive systems employ adaptive learning mechanisms, facilitating ongoing analysis and behavior adjustments grounded in fresh data and experiences. This adaptability refines their knowledge, boosts accuracy, and ensures relevance in ever-changing settings.
  1. Knowledge representation: This entails the organization and structuring of data to enable systems to grasp and utilize it effectively. This capability empowers cognitive systems to efficiently store and retrieve information, establishing connections among fragmented knowledge components and harnessing existing expertise to make well-informed decisions.
  1. Analytical thinking and problem-solving: Cognitive computing frameworks utilize logical processes to examine data, form conclusions, and address intricate challenges. These systems replicate human reasoning by evaluating options and choosing the optimal course of action based on the available information.
  1. Semantic analysis: Semantic analysis involves understanding the context-specific meanings of words and phrases. This capability enables cognitive systems to recognize subtle connections between words and concepts, ensuring precise comprehension and generating suitable responses.
  1. Emotion analysis: Certain cognitive systems are integrated with emotion analysis functions, enabling them to comprehend human emotions conveyed through text, speech, or visual cues. This capability enriches interactions by enabling the system to respond with empathy and appropriateness.
  1. Knowledge unveiling: Cognitive systems possess the ability to reveal hidden patterns, insights, and relationships in data that traditional analysis might miss. This capacity for knowledge unveiling is invaluable, enabling informed decision-making and the identification of innovative pathways.
  1. Human-machine interaction: Human-machine interaction within cognitive computing structures commonly integrates user interfaces, enabling seamless and intuitive communication between humans and machines. These interfaces include various tools like chatbots and voice recognition, enabling users to engage effectively with the system in a natural manner.
Four attributes of cognitive computing

What are the Applications of Cognitive Computing?

The applications of cognitive computing span diverse industries, reshaping the way we approach problem-solving and decision-making.

Let’s look into these specific applications of cognitive computing:

  • Retail industry: Cognitive computing alters retail by transforming data into actionable strategies. E-commerce giants like Amazon employ it to tailor product recommendations based on individual customer preferences.

It facilitates demand forecasting, price optimization, and agile website design, thus enhancing operational efficiency. Companies like Aisera have pioneered AI-driven service experience platforms that actively address business needs, from customer service to HR and IT, offering a personalized and predictive customer experience.

  • Logistics: In the logistics sector, cognitive computing powers warehouse management. Smart storage codes and automated picking with guided vehicles streamline operations, reducing errors and improving efficiency.

Integration with the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices provides real-time data for informed decision-making, ensuring precise inventory monitoring and preventing shortages or overstock.

  • Banking and finance: Cognitive banking redefines customer engagement in the financial area. It enables personalized investment plans, swift digital transactions, and customized services.

IBM’s Watson, a data analytics processor, assists financial institutions by offering personalized insights, risk assessment, and regulatory compliance.

Video source: YouTube/GTech-IT
  • Cyber security: Cognitive algorithms strengthen cybersecurity by detecting threats, assessing vulnerabilities, and proposing countermeasures while safeguarding data privacy against cyber attacks and manipulation. Cisco Secure, the world’s largest enterprise cybersecurity company, leads in enterprise cybersecurity with Cisco Cognitive Intelligence, leveraging machine learning and AI to detect cyber threats, ensuring robust digital security proactively.
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, cognitive computing integrates human expertise with machine efficiency. Real-time patient data informs treatment decisions, leading to improved outcomes. Cognitive technology is propelling Genome Medicine, enabling personalized treatments. For example, startups like Lumiata and Enlitic have created compact yet powerful analytic solutions that significantly assist healthcare providers in diagnosing and predicting disease conditions.
  • Education: Cognitive computing provides personalized study materials, acting as a career counselor and enhancing the learning experience for both students and educators. It offers tailored support and guidance. Cognii, for instance, is a company that has developed a virtual learning assistant powered by cognitive technologies. Their AI platform assesses students’ written responses, providing personalized feedback and guidance, thereby enhancing the learning experience and improving educational outcomes.

What are cognitive computing advantages?

Cognitive computing has several advantages, including the following:

  • High-accuracy data analysis. Cognitive computing aims to enable more manageable decision-making in important matters. While people make mistakes, cognitive computing systems are accurate, which is evident in IBM’s Watson for Oncology. This supercomputer analyzes the data from the patient’s records, medical books, and bulletins to decide on the best treatment for the patient.
  • Improved efficiency of business processes. Cognitive computing recognizes patterns in business data analysis, speeds up work, and reduces risks.
  • Improved interaction and user experience. Cognitive computing can substitute communication with human staff in business processes. Based on cognitive computing technologies, chatbots can provide customers with relevant and helpful information that saves time and improves the customer experience.
  • Greater employee productivity. Cognitive computing solves monotonous tasks, such as collecting and analyzing data, allowing employees to express their full potential by devoting themselves to creative studies.
Cognitive computing advantages

What are the Challenges of Cognitive Computing?

Cognitive computing confronts several critical challenges that demand attention. These issues include:

Security Concerns

The surge in connected devices intensifies the risk of security breaches. Cognitive computing faces the daunting task of addressing these concerns effectively. To combat potential security breaches, cognitive computing must craft an airtight security plan. Adapting to the evolving landscape is vital.

Adoption Hurdles

The adoption of any new technology presents challenges. A comprehensive, long-term plan is essential for the success of cognitive computing. Collaboration with stakeholders such as organizations, tech developers, government entities, and individuals can streamline the adoption process.

Training Complexity

Cognitive systems require meticulous training for users to grasp their operations fully. The slow training process hinders widespread adoption. In organizations, every employee involved with these systems must undergo training, which can be both expensive and complex.

Prolonged Development Cycles

Developing scenario-based applications through cognitive computing takes considerable time. Presently, it’s primarily offered as a generalized solution. This limitation means that implementing it across various industry segments requires dedicated development teams and substantial time investment. This extended development cycle particularly hampers smaller companies.

Change Management

A critical challenge lies in managing the transition to cognitive computing. People are naturally resistant to change, and cognitive computing’s ability to learn like humans can evoke fear of job displacement. The human-machine interaction aspect must be embraced, fostering acceptance of this transformative technology.

Cognitive computing disadvantages

Cognitive Computing: Takeaway

Cognitive computing, blending human intelligence with technology, changes data processing. Distinct from traditional AI, it comprehends diverse data types through natural language processing, machine learning, and pattern recognition.

Its applications in retail, finance, healthcare, and education highlight its transformative impact.

Despite challenges like security and adoption complexities, cognitive computing heralds a new era. This synergy of human creativity and machine precision promises enhanced decision-making, resource efficiency, and improved lives.

Embracing cognitive computing’s potential demands navigating challenges, but the rewards – streamlined processes, precise insights, and transformative innovations – underscore its significance in shaping our future.

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Neil Sahota
Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution and sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, Neil works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next generation products/solutions powered by AI.