Category Archives: Design
Like anything else in life except death and taxes (and even the particulars of these are uncertain), uncertainty is something that humans deal with every day. From relying on the weather report for umbrella advice to getting to work on time, every day actions are fraught with uncertainty and we all have learned how to navigate an unpredictable world. As AI becomes widely deployed, it simply adds a new dimension of unpredictability. Perhaps, however, instead of trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle, we can develop some realistic guidelines for its use.
Our expectations for AI, and for computers in general have always been unrealistic. The fact is that software is buggy; that algorithms are crafted by humans who have certain biases about how systems and how the world works—and they may not match your biases. Furthermore, no data set is unbiased, and we use data sets with built in biases or with holes in the data to train AI systems. These systems are by their very nature, then, biased, or lacking in information. If we depend on these systems to be perfect, we are letting ourselves in for errors, mistakes, and even disasters.
However, relying on biased systems is no different from asking a friend, who shares your world view, for information that may serve to bolster that view rather than balance it. And we do this all the time. Finding balanced, reliable, reputable information is hard and sometimes impossible. Any person trying to navigate an uncertain world tries to make decisions based on balanced information. The import of the decision governs (or should) the effort we make in hunting for reliable but differing sources. The speed with which a decision must be made often interferes with this effort. And we need to accept that our decisions will be imperfect, or even outright wrong, because no one can amass and interpret correctly everything there is to know.
Where might AI systems fit into the information picture? We know that neither humans nor systems are infallible in their decision making. Adding the input of a well-crafted, well-tested system that is based on a large volume of reputable data, to human decision making can speed up and improve the outcome. There are good reasons for this because human thinking balances AI systems. They can plug each others’ blind spots. Humans make judgments based on their world view. They are capable of understanding priorities, ethics, values, justice, and beauty. Machines can’t. But machines can crunch vast volumes of data. They don’t get embarrassed. They may find patterns we wouldn’t think to look for. But humans can decide whether to use that information. This makes a perfect partnership in which one of the partners won’t be insulted if their input is ignored.
Adding AI into the physical world in which snap decisions are required, raises additional design and an ethical issues which we are ill-fit to resolve today. Self driving cars are a good example of this. In the abstract, and at a high level, it’s been shown that most accidents and fatalities are due to human error. So, self-driving cars may help us save lives. Now we come down to the individual level. Suppose we have a sober, skilled, experienced driver who would recognize a danger she has never seen before. Suppose that we have a self driving car that isn’t trained on that particular hazard. Should the driver or the system be in charge? I would opt for an AI assisted system with override from a sober, experienced driver. On the other hand, devices with embedded cognition can be a boon that changes someone’s world. One project at IBM research is developing self driving buses to assist the elderly or the disabled live their lives independently. Like Alexa or Siri on a smaller scale, this could change lives. We come back to the matter of context, use, and value. There is no single answer to human questions of “should.”
This brings us to the question of trust. Should we trust AI systems and under what circumstances? That depends on:
- The impact of wrong or misleading information: Poor decisions? Physical harm? Momentary annoyance?
- The amount and reliability of the data that feeds the system
- The goals of the system designers: are they trying to convince you of something? Mislead you? Profit from your actions?
- The quality of the question/query
Is there some way to design systems so that they become an integral part of our thinking process, including helping us develop better questions, focus our problem statements, and reveal how reliable their recommendations are? Can we design systems that are transparent? Can we design systems that help people understand the vagaries of probabilistic output? Good design is the key—within the context of the use and the user.
Facebook’s Dave Feldman writes a blog on medium.com that discusses interaction design. The most recent post examines how useful chatbots are vs. GUI’s. (https://medium.com/@dfeldman/bots-conversation-is-more-than-text-1c76d153e13d) Cutting through the hype, Dave gives some examples of how adhering to one design camp or another can create a frustrating experience for a customer. When you move the online dialog into the real world of ordering a meal in a restaurant, it’s quickly apparent that neither type of design approach makes sense. In one case, the experience is cold and inhuman, even though it’s efficient. In the other, the amount of information conveyed makes it impossible to consider all the choices and come to a decision. The trick is to use each approach judiciously, and probably together, depending on the amount of information to convey, the type of dialog needed in order to make a decision, and the human element that creates a warm, satisfying customer experience. Check it out. It’s both entertaining and instructive.
[The following article is a transcript of a video of Sue Feldman’s keynote session at KMWorld 2015 in Washington, DC. View the full session video at http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/ViewPoints/Cognitive-Computing-and-Knowledge-Management-Sparking-Innovation-108929.aspx?PageNum=2]
Download the slides: Sparking Innovation
Innovation is perhaps the biggest test of a knowledge management system. We’re used to capturing information. We’re used to locking it down. We’re used to accumulating it. We’re used to creating some kinds of access to it. Innovation makes us go far beyond that. What I’ll talk to you about today is what innovation is. What the process for coming up with a new idea actually is. Then I would like to talk to you about cognitive computing because I think that it solves some of the problems that our older, traditional technologies cannot really address adequately. I’ll end by talking a little bit about where I think knowledge management has to go.
Let me start by telling you a story. Once upon a time, there was a biologist and physicist and they went for a walk. The first thing they started to do is to fall into a conversation about a fairly arcane subject: DNA. The physicist was interested in the electrical properties of DNA. The biologist knew a fair amount about that because he was also a chemist and something of an inventor. They talked and they walked and then the physicist went back home, continue to ask questions, do research, etc. The biologist kept on sending information but really went back to what he liked to do best which was tinkering with ideas and things because he was something of an inventor. After several years of research, the biologist, Esther Conwell, won the National Science medal in 2010 for her work on the conductive properties of DNA and how to enhance those because she was interested in semi-conductors. The inventor was my Dad, and that’s the kind of thing that he enjoyed, which I think is a story of what happens when you have two innovative, open-minded people.
Ingredients of Innovation
Let’s take a look at the ingredients. First of all, you need a problem or research direction. In this case it was semi-conductors. You also need opportunity. You need cross-fertilization, in this case biology and physics, which are adjacent but certainly not congruent. You need colleagues who, like you, interested in discussing. In the research that I’ve done over the years on the process of innovation, I’ve found that innovative inventions of various kinds, and discoveries tend to be sparked by good food and a bottle of wine. It’s almost a requirement. You need curiosity. You need that serendipitous encounter to create the “aha moment,” a happy accident. You also need information and you need support both in the sense of an organization willing to let you model around and support in the sense of the information that is provided to you.
What is innovation? Well, it’s a lot of things. When President Obama presented the medal to Esther Conwell, he said that innovation is fueled by a combination of caffeine and passion. Obsession actually. Certainly, it requires a new idea, but it’s rarely entirely novel. It builds on what came before and that should be of importance to knowledge managers. Game-changing innovations occur at the boundaries between subjects and organizations. It’s a group effort rather than an individual one. Developers, users, partners, and colleagues all have a part in it because they provide not just the ideas but also the need that spurs the innovator to solve a problem. It tends to occur at the lower levels of organizations. Those of us who are at the top of the organization, beware. It may disrupt industries or companies for good or ill and it is both risky and rewarding. That’s innovation.
What’s the business case for supporting innovation? Because very often it doesn’t pay off. Those of you who have R&D departments know that that’s the case. First, revenue. If you’re successful, it drives revenue because you are first to market. That means you are able to dominate that market and in fact that’s what’s happening with cognitive computing right now. You can attract and keep customers, build customer loyalty and market buzz, shape that market the way you want. It helps you avoid disruption and stay competitive. It helps you expand into new markets.
By creating a fertile environment for R&D, you also have a pipeline of new ideas to avoid stagnation and being bypassed by competitors. You attract outstanding researchers who soon burn out and leave if you don’t provide them with that kind of organizational support and latitude because innovation is a fragile flower. It gets trampled very easily.
On my second job, a very long time ago, I got hired by someone who called me in after two weeks and said, “I heard that you are innovative, Susan. You haven’t had any ideas yet.” She was right. I never had another one for her.
The Innovation Process
What is the innovation process? It’s quite different from what goes on in knowledge management normally. First, you have to have that idea or interest. There’s no question about that. You have open discussions, wide readings, you bump into people, you talk to them in the hallways, you go out to dinner with friends who are not in the organization, and gradually you discover that there is a need, which you find intriguing.
This is a very individual process even though it requires other people. You define the problem. You eliminate some of the common ideas. You discover that other people have been there before you and you give up and do something else. Then something interesting happens: you’ve taken in all this information, you’ve stuffed it into your head, and you let it simmer.
We had a graphic designer who is tremendously innovative. He used to go home and take a bath. I’d go for walks. Other people do other things. They knit. They cook. They garden. Whatever it is, they have to distract the front of their brain so that the back of the brain can allow that ferment to happen and that’s great fun. But if you have too tight a deadline, you’re not going to follow that elusive idea which is half-formed because you don’t have time for it. You have to meet the deadline and the idea gets squashed. That’s a very important thing for organizations to understand. These people who are innovators need some direction, but they also need a great deal of latitude and freedom as well.
You have to explore broadly. (This is where cognitive computing and knowledge management coincide, as I’ll discuss later). You have to filter and winnow and focus and rethink and iterate and go back to the beginning and start all over again. Finally, you have something concrete enough to develop and off you go, maybe. You find the problem, do research on it, then go off and develop. You commercialize it, you throw it into the market place and you see what the consequences are–big revenue, losses, whatever it turns out to be.
You identify the problem by talking to customers, talking to colleagues, talking to sales people, and talking to other researchers. Coming back is very iterative, as most of you know. You do research and you redefine the problem.
Again, you iterate. Test it on the market like at social media. Do competitive intelligence. Then you might commercialize it and see what happens after that.
Discovering What We Don’t Know
There is set of information tasks that we try to support with knowledge management, research, and text analytics. Any sort of information access and management tool is aiming to support all of these tasks, but the tools rarely do. The problem is that we have separate tools. The creation tools may not be well integrated into the process. If they are, the fact is that in innovation we’re on the phone, we’re sending emails, we’re discussing in the hallways. We’re not capturing that.
The reasons why we make decisions and change directions are poorly known and can’t be modeled for the process to happen again. We’re losing information that’s falling off the table. We’re pretty good at finding in some ways. We’re not so good at discovering what we don’t know and uncovering patterns we don’t know enough to look at. That discovery and uncovering are key to innovation, because what we want is to find out what we don’t know so that we can invent it. We’re pretty good at analyzing information and getting better. The discussion is very often not integrated into this whole picture and the decision-making is fairly diffuse. These are information tasks that we need to be able to support.
The Role of Information and Analysis Tools
The role of information access and analysis tools in this case is to improve exploration and discovery, to introduce related information. Although we want related information, we don’t want all the information in the world.
How do we manage to promote those happy accidents without burying the searcher? We have to help with the information-finding process to eliminate queries perhaps in favor of exploration of some sort. We have to help. This is where our traditional systems also fall down, in helping the user to frame the question broadly, helping the user understand how to ask for the information they need if they don’t know they need it. We used to have knowledgeable intermediaries who did a lot of this, but that’s not what’s happening today.
The tools have to help us understand and discover unexpected relationships across all sources of information. They need to search on a concept level rather than on keywords because those are also limitations. They need to unite multiple sources of information no matter what format they’re in or where they reside. They need to collect and share and discuss. They need to enable information and people to interact in one place. Then of course they need to save us time so that we can look at enough information in order to have those ideas. That tools that have started to emerge over the last couple of years are key to supporting these expanded roles for knowledge management. Cognitive systems are the next logical step.
As an analyst, I’ve been watching the markets develop all kinds of tools: business intelligence, search, text analytics, graphics of various kinds, reporting tools, creation tools, and drawing tools. They all solve a piece of a problem.
We used to call that “Sneakernet.” The Sneakernet that goes on in the creative and innovation process is overwhelming. It’s a tremendous waste of time because it means you’re constantly rummaging back through stuff that you did 10 years ago because you know you did it already. In fact, when I was preparing this talk about innovation, I had to go back to research I did 10 years ago because I knew I’d done something about this, but I really didn’t remember where it was. It was really hard to find it; desktop search is terrible. Yet, there it was in the back of my head.
Enter Cognitive Computing
See separate article in KM World, “What is Cognitive Computing”,
Cognitive computing is going to bring us another step closer to solving some of these problems. What is cognitive computing? Last year I brought together a team of 14 or 15 people to try to define it before marketplace hype completely screwed up any idea of what it was. I don’t know if we’re succeeding or not.
What are the problems that cognitive computing attacks? They’re the ones that we have left on the table because we can’t put them into neat rows and columns. They’re ambiguous. They’re unpredictable. They’re very human. There’s a lot of conflicting data. There’s no right and wrong, just best, better, and not such a good idea but maybe. This data requires exploration not searching. You just have to keep poking at it and shifting things around.
When I’m at the beginning of a project, I find myself jotting down ideas and then arranging them on a large table because sometimes they fit together one way and sometimes they fit together another. You need to uncover patterns and surprises, and computers are very good at this because they don’t get embarrassed by wrong ideas. Although they all have the biases that they get from their programmers, their biases are different from yours.
The situation is shifting as well. As we learn more, we change our focus and our goals. We go back and ask the same question that we often do, but we do so hoping for different results because we’ve already learned that stuff is not so easy in today’s systems. If you go to Google and ask the same question, you’re not always going to get the same answers, but you’ll get similar answers. But if you were looking for pictures of Java because you’re planning your vacation today and two months from now you want flights, the system won’t know your progress and your decisions.
The Value of Context
How do we make a cognitive system into a partner so that it keeps track of who we are and what we want to know at this time? It gives best answers based on who you are, where you are, what you know, what you want to know, and when you want to know it. It is very individually focused. Its aim is problem solving beyond information gathering. It gives recommendations based on who you are. I want to give you a couple of examples because context, we have found, is one of the key differentiators of a cognitive system.
In 2011, IBM designed a computer named “Watson” that won Jeopardy against two human champions. That was the beginning of cognitive computing. (You can see it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Puhs2LuO3Zc).
For me, as a person who has been in the chaotic world of search and text analytics all my life, it was a validation that the kinds of things that we do–the search index as opposed to the database–were actually really useful for very complex problem-solving. That was the beginning.
For another example, think about patient care. The emphasis on who, what, where, and when you are is one of the differentiators for cognitive computing. We all need slightly different slants on the same question. Let’s say we have a patient who has a disease. We know his genetic makeup, his age, his history of smoking, that he has certain allergies, etc. We also know where he is, what kind of access he has to medical care. We also have access to enormous amounts of information especially in health care and possible treatments and confidence scores. How does this change health care, because this is life and death?
Today, in standard health care, if you have a disease, or a particular kind of tumor, there are treatment guidelines. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, female, male, young, or old. That’s how you treat them. That’s not the way it needs to work. Instead, imagine you have all that information–more information than any doctor can amass in his head–and you’ve ingested it and you can start to match that person as a query, against that information and all of the applicable drugs side effects and what’s known from clinical trials. You come up with 2 or 3 treatments. Maybe the system says, “Have you considered that if you did this test we would have more confidence in recommending?” It’s a dialogue now. It’s a dialogue that supports the doctor and the patient in their decision on a treatment and that’s the kind of medical care I want. That’s another kind of context.
Suppose you’re an investor. In that case the context is for the portfolio, the personality. Are you conservative? Are you a risk-taker? How old are you? Do you want a lot of data or do you just want to be told what to invest in? Are you an influencer? How old are you? What’s your previous investment history? What are the market trends? What is your investment strategy?
All of those things need to be taken into account. That’s what human investment advisors do, but they’re not all-knowing. Starting with the evidence, the information, and then the ability to make a better judgment instead of a gut, intuitive decision is a very good idea–especially if it’s your money.
Consider the company, CustomerMatrix. They have a sales application. It sits on top of sales force. They do a lot of this. They look at who the sales person is. They look at who the manager is, who the strategist is for the company. They give different answers, but the thing that I’m fascinated by is that they also have ingested your business goals and your business strategy. They will make recommendations according to the usefulness of approaching one prospect or another for acquisition, or sales, or another department based on how a positive outcome will influence the business of the entire company as opposed to just that sales person’s commissions. It’s not a bad idea.
Another example is ExpertSystem. I’m just showing you that this can be very familiar. These systems do the usual text analytics things. They extract sentiment. One example is about a cat that was a popular resident one of the train stations. But they extract things like sadness and give people who are writing news, for instance, a very good idea by comparing the number of hits, number of readers, and number of Tweets, etc., against the kinds of extractions they’ve done already in order to understand better what readers are looking for. This is kind of a building block and the context is this particular event.
Elements of Innovation
What are the elements of innovation? People, collaboration tools, access tools, information of different types, and a work environment that is designed for cross-fertilization.
What kills innovation? Lack of organizational support, party-line thinking, no time to think, too-rigid innovation systems, lack of encouragement of innovation, poor or limited information and information access, and of course, information overload. We want lots of information but we don’t want too much. That’s a tall order for knowledge management.
Can we re-imagine knowledge management? What can we do to give us a sort of informed serendipity? How do we do this? Cognitive computing can help with this, but there are some changes we need to make–not just in our systems and our tools, but also in our thinking. To bring us back to that DNA metaphor, we need to get away from structures in some cases. They’re useful, but not only do we need to capture information and conserve it, we also need to cut it loose. We need to loosen our grip on the information bits that are attached to those taxonomies, that are contained on those cells of the databases, and that are in the document and the text analytics systems categorized to within an inch of their lives.
Let them loose. Let them float around, bump into each other, and give innovators the opportunity to create their own information soup, if you will, to explore without forcing them into the structures that we have created. Because what they want to do is to find the unexpected by creating schemas and taxonomies we are giving them what we expect in terms of how information works. This is a tall order for knowledge management, and I leave it with you as a challenge and a question.
Since 2001, we have periodically surveyed information workers to find out how much time they spend on a variety of tasks related to information work. These include time spent reading and answering email, searching, writing, creating presentations, entering data, managing information, and translating. We have also asked them to calculate the time they waste in reformatting information, wrestling with multiple versions of documents, duplicating other workers’ efforts or not finding the information they need. Up until now, our conclusions have remained the same: information work, with its disconnected tools and repetitive tasks hinders information workers from accomplishing their core tasks. All too often, we have found, it is the small but time consuming things that get in the way of accomplishing something important.
That may finally be changing as new applications come to market that are designed to reduce repetitive information tasks. Often, these are seemingly inconsequential jobs that, because of their number, require literally thousands and hundreds of thousands of actions, all of which are predictable and repeatable. Like, for instance, looking at patient records to extract the appropriate ICD 9 and ICD 10 codes from doctors’ notes. It turns out that properly trained content analytics applications, as IBM told us, can do this efficiently and more accurately than weary human coders who are subject to burn out.
Here’s another example of a seemingly small task that can take on gigantic proportions. Infinote tells us that every time there is a regulatory change, pharmaceutical companies (or any regulated industry) must find and change every document that is affected. Just revising the wording to reflect the new regulation on use of safety goggles turns out to be a terrible time sink. At one pharmaceutical company, this regulatory change affected an estimated 900 documents—one per lab. Ferreting out these documents was no easy task, nor was changing them one at a time. It would have taken an estimated 6-8 weeks of elapsed time before all the changes were complete.
To address this problem, Infinote, founded by executives from Genentech, has created a specialized search, analysis, update and audit application that includes an add-on to Microsoft Word. Finding and changing all the documents that contained the now-obsolete wording took a matter of minutes with Infinote. This kind of application is part of the wave of the future: it is easy to use; it integrates multiple information sources and technologies in a single application; it supports a specific process within a familiar work environment, and eliminates repetitive tasks so that information workers can work more productively.
By their very nature, good mobile applications must be smarter. The physical limitations—the small screen, or the input mechanisms (1-2 fingers or unpredictable voice recognition) mandate that a mobile app anticipate what you want to do and make it easy to get there. No drop down boxes, no multiple queries, not much scrolling. Certainly very little clicking to get to a new screen. Or a chain of multiple queries when the first one is off the mark. Forget cut and paste. For these reasons, mobile applications must be both smarter at understanding what you want and intelligently designed. That’s hard.
Enter cognitive computing. If an application can really understand what the user intends, if it can classify questions and predict the kind of answer or action needed, then there will be less burden placed on the user to adapt to the limitations of the app. But cognitive computing requires real language understanding (NLP) as well as machine learning and classification. It also requires a corpus of examples to learn from. This is a level of technical prowess that would be impossible to develop for most start ups. Enter IBM’s Watson. Watson Foundations was released last quarter. And now IBM has announced the Watson Mobile Developer Challenge. This contest invites app developers to submit a proposal to develop an application on the IBM Watson platform. Developers must make a case for what they propose, demonstrating why it would be valuable. Winning apps will capitalize on Watson’s strengths:
- Have a question and answer interaction pattern, with questions posed in natural language
- Draw on mostly unstructured (text) information for answers
- Return answers that are ranked according to their pertinence to the question
- Benefit by better understanding (analysis) of the type of question being submitted
The catch is that applications are due by March 31st.
This contest brings cognitive computing within the reach of developers. Watson supplies the NLP tools, question analysis, machine learning, and confidence scoring that would otherwise place cognitive computing beyond the reach of most vendors. For more information, see IBMWatson.com. The application and rules can be found at: