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Cognitive computing applications refocus developers' skills

In traditional apps, logic and code come first, followed by loading of data. Cognitive computing applications lead with data that dictates where the logic should go. Are you ready?

This is the fourth in a continuing series of stories previewing sessions of importance to cloud application developers at the Cloud Expo conference, which takes place June 7 to 9 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York.

Judith Hurwitz is president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, a Needham, Mass., research and consulting firm focused on emerging technology, including big data, cognitive computing and governance. She is co-author of the book Cognitive Computing and Big Data Analytics, published in 2015. Her Cloud Expo session, "What Is the Business Imperative for Cognitive Computing?" is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, at 8:40 a.m. In it, she puts cognitive computing into perspective with its value to the business, examines what it takes to build a cognitive application and identifies the types of services that best fit this data-driven approach. She spoke with SearchCloudApplications to offer a preview.

What is cognitive computing, and how is it alike -- or different -- from artificial intelligence (AI)?

Judith Hurwitz: What's key in building traditional systems is that they begin with process and logic, attempting to answer the question, 'What am I trying to do for my business?' You develop the logic, write the code and then flow data into that. That doesn't work in this age of digital transformation, where business logic and processes are constantly changing. In a cognitive approach, you lead with the data and let it drive you to the right logic. This is a very different way of approaching computing. In addition to data helping determine the logic, cognitive computing applications are designed to learn from human experts.

Do artificial intelligence and machine learning play a role?

Hurwitz: Artificial intelligence is an evolution toward what we call cognitive computing or machine learning. When AI came into vogue in the late 1980s, these early systems would be fine as long as you could input all the logic, data and rules into a system. Companies loved the idea of taking a problem and allowing machines to help automate. But when there was a lot of human knowledge, you had to physically input all of that data into the system before it would work; that could take years.

How does cloud computing improve that?

Hurwitz: With AI, you needed a lot of processing and storage; you were trying to recreate the human brain. Cloud computing changes that. We have more processing power and unlimited storage. That allows us to apply sophisticated algorithms. AI is the father of this.

Is this the cloud as the great equalizer that empowers businesses of all sizes?

Cloud providers offer platforms whose enormous power can be accessed and used by anyone.
Judith Hurwitzpresident and CEO, Hurwitz & Associates

Hurwitz: Cloud is an enabler. Cloud providers offer platforms whose enormous power can be accessed and used by anyone. The cloud is a vehicle that allows companies of any size to perform highly complex analytics. We are past the days when only the biggest enterprises on the planet had these kinds of services in their organization.

What does a business realize as the key benefit?

Hurwitz: The value is that the system can learn. When you do a cognitive approach, you're entering a lot of data. For years, we used the process of queries and data warehouses that are predicated on the premise that you know what you're looking for or what the answer should look like -- as in asking what my sales were last month. It can't lead you to what you don't already know. Conversely, cognitive computing applications take an advanced analytics approach that lets you discover patterns and anomalies that you might not have been searching for in the first place.

What changes for application developers in a data-first approach?

Hurwitz: This used to be the domain of people who were proficient in low-level technologies. Today, we are seeing much better high-level development tools, APIs and cognitive computing application development environments. Developers [who] have good knowledge of these tools have an opportunity to gain access and apply their skills to this emerging area. With good skills and intuition, understanding this new path is critical to their career paths. We're in the age of digital disruption, and that means things move very quickly. The days of writing logic and hoping it doesn't change for two years are gone forever.

Is there a particular skill that developers must have to succeed?

Hurwitz: Data analytics. You must have data analytics skills. Cognitive computing applications will reach a point where they start with analytics instead of writing traditional code. We're not there quite yet, but this will definitely happen.

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