EXCLUSIVE: IBM is researching tech that will help you make the best investments and ensure no one ever fails their class!

EXCLUSIVE: IBM is researching tech that will help you make the best investments and ensure no one ever fails their class!
For a regular person, there are merely two things that ensure he/she has a life worth living-a good education and smart investments. However, in the current socio-economic environment, the only constant is volatility-be it in the education system or where you invest your hard-earned money. And, this is where IBM, one of the world’s largest tech innovators steps in. IBM is researching some critical technology that is supremely intuitive and will ensure you never make a wrong investment and that your children always ace their exams.

Business Insider recently met up with Ramesh Gopinath, Head of IBM’s Research Lab in India, which also happens to be the largest innovation lab that the tech giant operates outside of North America, to ask him about the cool tech his lab is rustling up for the world. The Lab in India, Ramesh, who is also the Chief Technologist for South Asia at IBM, told us has in fact been crucial to some of the company’s recent biggest innovation successes including the hugely popular Watson.

Not only that, probably one of the most brilliant tech minds in the country, he also spoke to us about the obvious-why most global tech companies have to rely on global tech institutes like MIT and Harvard for their researchers and innovators and where Indian technology institutes are lacking in creating world class innovators, despite Silicon Valley being infested by Indians.

A lot of research that you do here in the Indian Lab will have a resonating effect not only here but globally as well.

Let me start with what is the biggest thing that research did for IBM from the innovation perspective for the last five or ten years; the work we did with Watson, that led IBM to announce its business unit. That we started a business unit is an example of what innovation can lead us to. In that my lab had a huge role in the sense that the first commercial offering that came out of the Watson group was something called Watson engagement advice. The key components came directly from this lab. In that sense we are central to what IBM does.

We do cutting edge innovation in the context with cognitive computing. In cognitive computing we talk about systems that partner with human to get things done. These are systems that URL-understand, reason and learn. We have a project here called Ling Vist. Project paraname could be a picture worth a thousand words. You give a picture and in plain text it will tell you what’s in the picture.

What are the areas that something like this could be used in?

E-retail, healthcare to name a few. Then again in helping to understand radiologist images. The first step is to make the radiologists or cardiologists to understand the images and asses them. There are some tasks that machines do better than humans.

Another one is a project we have done with a prominent bank in South East Asia. This one was to help a wealth advisor in a bank to help their clients. You have a wealth advisor call a client in the morning and say “Hey look, maybe you should look at this equity or this particular investment in your portfolio and change things.” How do they make this recommendation is based on trying to understand an individual and their needs and financial situation. That part is relatively easy as banks have that information. What you need is the latest information. It is very hard to keep track of everything that is going on with the client. That’s exactly where cognitive systems come in. One can imagine a system like Watson that reads all these documents and then customises it according to the requirements that each of the client would need. We have deployed it with some banks and 100s of wealth advisors.

Are you planning to roll it out in a larger manner?

Yes. It will take time as it has to work perfectly. We call it internally as wealth manger solution.

Globally or India specific?

We have tested it in a bank in a major South East Asian country.

What are the key areas of interest in the research lab here in India?

Every research lab is focussed in different areas. In India, our lab is focussed in three things.

1. Everything to do with data analytics as it pertains to cognitive computing- text analysis, vision, image analysis, processing mobile data, all sorts of data. The entire ingestion, the curation, the workflows.

2. Where do we apply it to- I gave you examples of retail, financial services, education.

3. The third one is the same underlying number 1, applying to service delivery. How can you make it more productive and effective. Infact the watson engagement advisor has its roots in trying to make call centre agents more effective.

Out of these 3 areas, how do you identify the specific one that you want to chase after or focus on or research on?

First one is we start with the problem array. That drives what we do along. In everything we start with a application or specific use case. For example in the work that we did with the bank, we had to create a sentiment aggregation angel. We read all sorts of documents. The results could be different. One could be negative and one could be positive. You need to aggregate as you are going to give advice. So you need to have sense. You cannot throw contrarion views in front of the client.

Recently we have started covering education. The world has too many students and too few teachers. Today we have an offering from IBM called personalised learning from cloud. It is a personalised learning experience for the students. it is based on having a very good model of the learner, the learning content and during the learning process. It is a data driven process. One can identify the student at risk, who can fail. Then there is a process of intervention by the teacher. We have piloted in a school in US, in Gweneth County in Atlanta.

How does it work in a school?

All the information about the students and the learning content is available in the system. That’s the core component. Then you have analytics on top. Based on analytics we find cohorts of students who are similar to the students. that’s where you need the data. Then we tried to get data on if in the past among those cohorts the school had done any interventions that led to a good outcome. We try that solution out first, or else develop custom solutions to achieve the desired result.Let’s try it out on the student. That’s exactly how it also works out in healthcare.

Does the system also throw up new solutions?

Sure. Every intervention may not be perfect. You got to learn as you go. Same thing we had done at schools, university and also doing it in a corporate setting also for corporate learning. That whole body of work got to a point where we announced an offering from the IBM global business services called personalised learning on cloud. It is a cloud business solutions as they call it. It is not only that we are selling it. there are partners also who are selling it.

Is it going to come in India anytime soon?

We want to bring it to India. The fundamental issue that we are facing is we need to bootstrap from somewhere. We need data. 3 years ago I spoke to schools and colleges if they can give us this kind of data, but nobody keeps this kind of data here. In the US, most schools all this is heavily computerised.

At any point of time can IBM help schools create this kind of data?

It is a fairly complex task. We are a small team of people here. We are pushing what we have started on, our journey. There is a small effort of scaling it large in India. It is not like we have changed our goals. As it is research, we want to make sure we get traction.

Other interesting areas you are working on right now?

We do a lot of work on service delivery. If you want to do research it is all about the people.

What are the kind of people you choose to work with you here?

Mostly, PHD from the US or any other area. Most of them stay back and some come back. We do hire PHDs from India, but just a subset of IITs. People have to be top notch to be able to work here.

Which means there is a problem with the way they push for innovation at other colleges here in India?

Even in the top tier schools, not everyone has a good research culture.

Why is it so?

I don’t know. I do know it is a mix of students and professors who should be blamed. Making money is their main aim. We also do a lot of internships. There we tap the IITs and one or two IIITs. From the masters, we hire from IITs. We feel that we are doing a little bit to encourage the research culture.

What would you then say are the challenges for research and development in India?

The most important thing is top notch people with right attitude and desire and ability. If you want to shift to that direction, you need to have more professors who focus on research. Universities need to hire top notch researchers.

We encourage research. We give faculty excellence awards for research. We do events like an event called ICARE (IBM Collaborative Academic Research Exchange). This year we had one on Bluemix, IBM platform.

What are the areas according to you that are waiting to see major R&D happen?

Machine learning, AI, text learning, are at a cusp. I worked with speech recognition for 15 years. I can tell you what machine learning systems does. They learn, adapt, change. The other thing is robustness. If there is unseen types of data, the hope is these systems would recognise these data too. But, sometimes it won’t. Like in speech recognition it happens all the time.

What about robotics?

I think it is related. Robotics is embody recognition. The heart of every robots is essentially cognitive system. Natural learning, analysis. The mechanical aspect is also improving dramatically.

(IMAGE CREDITS: hi-news.ru)