IBM is slowly but surely building up its new AI (Artificial Intelligence) capability. In the early Nineties, it seemed as if AI and expert systems had run their course with little commercial impact. In fact, of course, major technologies don't go away. They get a lot of attention. People learn how to use the technology. And then there is a period when people digest and consider what they have learned. A few years later, suddenly, what was learned becomes the basis for a new round of useful applications.
The first round of useful applications that sprung from the AI and Expert Systems craze was Business Rules, which we now tend to term Decision Management. People abandoned the development of very large rule systems and focused, instead, on developing rules around business policies. By focusing on more or less constrained problems, the techniques developed for expert systems proved useful in defining and organizing the implementation of business rule systems.
Recently, with the development of massive databases (Big Data) and better natural language capabilities (IBM's Jeopardy application) IBM has relaunched its AI offering, now referring to it as Cognitive Capabilities and Watson Technology.
I'm glad to see this, since I spent a decade or more writing about AI and expert systems. Today IBM announced an application that it has developed in conjunction with USAA. USAA is a financial services provider for the military and their families. As the US winds down its military service men and women find they need to think about the transition back to civilian life. Luckily the military provides lots of help. Information about the help offered by the military is embedded in some 3000 documents. That's quite a bit to master, so USAA and IBM developed an IBM Watson (read expert system) to answer questions that military people might have. In essence, the user sits in front of a computer and asks questions. The system answers questions while simultaneously producing documents that the individual will need to avail themselves of whatever is on offer.
For those who remember the Eighties and the early expert systems, what Watson is doing isn't unusual, from a cognitive analysis perspective. The fact that it is doing is via speech, rather than requiring the user to type in questions, and the fact that it is doing it in near real time, however, is a huge advantage to the user.
For more information on this application, see IBM's press release: http://ibm.biz/BdFXHA
You can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future. The underlying technology is reasonably well understood. As quickly as people can create the databases and program the natural language interface, we are going to see a new generation of very smart decision support or help systems.
And, as someone who was just asked about what ever happened to BPM, I'm inclined to say: Look at what's happening in the expert systems market. The initial interest and exploration took place in the Eighties. Things died down in the Nineties, and then blossomed again into Business Rules in the first decade of this century. And now, in the second decade, we are seeing the full scale reintroduction of expert systems, under a new brand, and with a much better interface, but otherwise the same, focused on our current problems and challenges. It's hard to believe that BPM won't be back with a vengeance in a much shorter period of time. Moreover, the new BPM tools will be incorporating cognitive capabilities and natural language.