Communications at internet speed

How cognitive business changes the game

We are entering a new era of cognitive computing that will soon significantly alter how we communicate.

The genius of human creativity will be enhanced using multiple data sources, deep analytics and machine learning. Exciting, yet challenging times are coming.


Mid 1930s, a young radio reporter reads the play-by-play teletype messages about a sports event many miles away. In the absence of television, he mentally converts the text into an exciting, vivid game description that thrills his listening audience, whom he cannot see, yet knows very well. Years later, Ronald Reagan—the ‘Great Communicator’—becomes US president for two terms. Audience understanding is important in sports, it is especially so for any situation where thought leadership is required

Fast forward

It is now 2016, and millions of viewers around the world are following the first half of an exciting sports event using a variety of media. In parallel, a creative team is feverishly updating a TV spot that will air during half-time. To capture the viewers’ attention and recall, the spot is not only creatively original, but also includes very up-to-the-minute elements about today’s news, the local weather, sports plays that just occurred in the game, viewer sentiments etc.

Science fiction? Not at all!  It is already becoming reality. Welcome to the cognitive computing age, where your cognitive assistant captures data from multiple sources, such as social media, news streams, weather forecasts, internet of things devices etc. It uses sophisticated algorithms that learn on the job, then makes suggestions and recommendations to you and your team. These might include:

  • Compliance with external and internal regulations
  • Fact checking
  • Helping you remember the quote that you were looking for
  • Suggesting relevant articles or video clips on the topic

– all the while triggering creative thoughts that you might not have come up with on your own.

This blend of man and machine is a major breakthrough in how we do things, as it combines the strengths of computers (speed, ability to find things, freedom to combine things in unusual ways) with the creative genius that we humans possess.

Clearly, the key to this new agility is having access to immense amounts of current data (often in near real-time) as well as access to huge amounts of historical data on record.

However, raw data is only useful when it is curated. Therefore, sitting next to the communications and creative directors, there is someone called a data scientist who is guiding the computers in finding their way through the torrents of available information.

The data scientist speaks of the challenging 3 Vs of Data Curation:

  1. Variety: With a seemingly endless variety of data sources and formats to cope with (numbers, raw text, video, music etc.) our systems need to be trained to work correctly with ever-changing types and sources of data. This would not be possible if we have to reprogram our computer painstakingly and manually for every new type of data.
  2. Velocity: We need to work very quickly, as data often rapidly loses its freshness and pertinence. Again, this is not really possible with traditional ways of programming computers.
  3. Veracity: Not all data is reliable. This is particularly true for social media, but even news feeds or internet of things data may either be wrong or too imprecise for us to rely on them for making decisions.

This brings us to cognitive computing, where computers are capable of understanding natural language in context, reason at scale and learning. Cognitive computing tools such as IBM's Watson are changing the way we will do all aspects of business from marketing to selling, to servicing our customers.

I foresee that these changes to the way we communicate will start to take effect - at first gradually, then ever more rapidly within the next few years

We’ve come a long way since Ronald Reagan’s radio days, but one thing remains unchanged: making your message hit home is a uniquely human capability that we will not be able to delegate to technology alone. The trick will be to find the right mix of humans and machines.

In any case, get ready to welcome IBM Watson as the newest member of your communications team.

Image: IBM

Moshe Rappoport

Moshe Rappoport is executive technology advocate at IBM Research. In his work at the IBM Research THINK Lab – Zurich he organises and conducts briefings and explores future of technology in connection with business and society. In parallel to his work at IBM he is also a regular keynote speaker and lecturer, speaking about IT trends, society and technology, and innovation.