The moving edge of computing


Published in The Hindu – 30 Sep 2012 as “Three computing technologies that will power the world

“The moving edge of computing computes and having computed moves on…” We could thus rephrase the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’s “The moving hand…” Computing technology has really advanced by leaps and bounds. We are now in a new era of computing. We are in the midst of “intelligent and cognitive” computing.

From the initial days of number crunching by languages of FORTRAN, to the procedural methodology of Pascal or C and later the object oriented paradigm of C++ and Java we have now come a long way.  In this age of information overload technologies that can just solve problems through steps & procedures are no longer adequate. We need technology to detect complex patterns, trends, understand nuances in human language and to automatically resolve problems. In this new era of computing the following 3 technologies are furthering the frontiers of computing technology.

Predictive Analytics

By 2016 130 Exabyte’s (130 * 2 ^ 60) will rip through the internet. The number of mobile devices will exceed the human population this year, 2012 and by 2016 the number of connected devices will touch almost 10 billion. The devices connected to the net will range from mobiles, laptops, tablets, sensors and the millions of devices based on the “internet of things”. All these devices will constantly spew data on the internet. A hot and happening trend in computing is the ability to make business and strategic decisions by determining patterns, trends and outliers among mountains of data. Predictive analytics will be a key discipline in our future and experts will be much sought after. Predictive analytics uses statistical methods to mine intelligence, information and patterns in structured, unstructured and streams of data. Predictive analytics will be applied across many domains from banking, insurance, retail, telecom, energy. There are also applications for energy grids, water management, besides determining user sentiment by mining data from social networks etc.

Cognitive Computing

The most famous technological product in the domain of cognitive computing is IBM’s supercomputer Watson. IBM’s Watson is an artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. IBM’s supercomputer Watson is best known for successfully trouncing a national champion in the popular US TV quiz competition, Jeopardy. What makes this victory more astonishing is that IBM’s Watson had to successfully decipher the nuances of natural language and pick the correct answer.  Following the success at Jeopardy, IBM’s Watson supercomputer has now  been employed by a leading medical insurance firm in US to diagnose medical illnesses and to recommend treatment options for patients. Watson will be able to analyze 1 million books, or roughly 200 million pages of information. The other equally well known mobile app is Siri the voice recognition app on the iPhone. The earlier avatar of cognitive computing was expert systems based on Artificial Intelligence. These expert systems were inference engines that were based on knowledge rules. The most famous among the expert systems were “Dendral” and “Mycin”. We appear to be on the cusp of tremendous advancement in cognitive computing based on the success of IBM’s Watson.

Autonomic Computing

This is another computing trend that will become prevalent in the networks of tomorrow. Autonomic computing refers to the self-managing characteristics of a network. Typically it signifies the ability of a network to self-heal in the event of failures or faults. Autonomic network can quickly localize and isolate faults in the network while keeping other parts of the network unaffected. Besides these networks can quickly correct and heal the faulty hardware without human intervention. Autonomic networks are typical in smart grids where a fault can be quickly isolated and the network healed without resulting in a major outage in the electrical grid.

These are truly exciting times in computing as we move towards true intelligence!

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