Thursday, February 25, 2021

IBM Research Is Working Strategically To Address Tomorrow’s Critical Problems

This week IBM provided an update on IBM Research and where they are focusing their resources. IBM Research is one of the most extensive collections of focused scientists in the world’s public sector. With 3,000 scientists, the organization has been in existence for 75 years and won 6 Nobel Laureates, 10 Medals of Technology, 5 National Medals of Science, and 6 Turing Awards.

They are currently using their advanced AI capability, their emerging Quantum Computing resources, and their Hybrid Cloud infrastructure to massively increase discovery to address the rapidly increasing critical problems facing the world.

Let’s talk about what IBM is doing with these resources this week.

IBM’s Primary Focus Areas

IBM Research tends to focus on strategic projects, which means their efforts can often span decades rather than years. They are one of a very few companies that actively plan for their long term future rather than excessively focusing on efforts measured in months.

IBM’s research efforts are focused on four areas improving the agility and security of the hybrid Cloud, creating the next generation of AI with fluid intelligence, moving Quantum computing to create frictionless development, and accelerating discovery with Science.

While IBM isn’t the largest cloud provider, they almost exclusively focus on enterprise and government clients and optimize their solutions to provide them with flexible solutions designed to be more secure and reliable than competing offerings.

For AI, they lead the market with their enterprise-grade Watson solution. They are advancing it with the eventual goal of creating a General Purpose AI where the intelligence is fluid and can adjust to any situation or task.

For Quantum Computing, IBM was one of the first companies to seriously invest in this technology and make it available to others in the Cloud. They are currently focusing on turning the technology into a stronger development tool.

Finally, and this was where the talk today focused, they are looking to accelerate Science because they realized that improving the rate of scientific advancement is critical not only to the future of IBM but the human race. This scientific focus included the physical sciences, mathematical sciences, life sciences, and computer science.

Accelerating Scientific Discovery

As I mentioned above, the presentation mostly focused on advancing scientific discovery because the need for that discovery to address critical problems like mitigating pandemics and global warming has never been greater. Virtually all discoveries are primarily based on the scientific method that begins with a question, moves to studying the nature of the question, creates a hypothesis on the answer, tests the hypothesis, assesses the result of the test, and then reports the methodology and test results.

IBM’s focus in this area is on increasing the speed of this process and improving both the quality and speed of each step. For instance, they develop new tools to help identify questions based on the target audience’s needs or business and close identified critical gaps in knowledge.

For study, they are working to improve the extraction, integration, and reasoning surrounding these efforts to create knowledge at scale. For the hypothesis, they are creating models and simulations that can automatically propose a new hypothesis. Testing is enhanced with robotics that automates experimentation and digital bridge models (simulations) with physical testing.  With assessment, they develop advanced pattern and anomaly detection tools and integrate simulation and experimentation processes to improve the results’ quality and speed.

Finally, with reporting, IBM Research uses machine representations of knowledge to develop new questions and related hypotheses. It is a circular process, with each iteration improving the knowledge and understanding of a targeted research area.

One of the more exciting areas that IBM is working on is materials innovation. The five areas that are the most interesting in this segment are:  Sustainable semiconductor products that safely degrade without polluting, fertilizers that help grow without polluting groundwater, next-generation batteries to replace Lithium-Ion that are more energy-dense and environmentally friendly, viral research to prevent the next pandemic, and CO2 capture to directly mitigate global warming.

To date, and they shared cases on this, some of the more significant efforts have discovered new and faster ways to advance immunotherapy research, several paths to understand and mitigate Parkinson’s Disease (working with the Michael J. Fox Foundation), and an accelerated materials discovery effort that is showing a lot of promise for eliminating CO2 in the atmosphere through carbon capture.

Wrapping Up

The urgency to do strategic research has never been greater. We face new threats to the world on what almost seems to be a monthly basis, and we need to be able to respond more effectively to those threats without the risk of equally massive collateral damage.

Only through a focus on strategic research can we find the solutions today for the problems of tomorrow. IBM is stepping up to that challenge, but we need more companies to make similar commitments because only together can we assure a better tomorrow.

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