Impact Of Big Data And Augmented Intelligence On Society


The national institute of advanced studies organized a public lecture at the IISc Campus yesterday on “The Impact Of Big Data Computing and Augmented Intelligence on Society”. The talk was delivered by Dr Tilak Agerwala who was formerly the Vice President at IBM Research and is now retired. The event was chaired by Dr Sangeeta Menon who is the Professor for the Programme on Consciousness Studies in the School of Humanities at the National Institute Of Advanced Studies (NIAS).

At the event, Dr Tilak spoke about how the fourth industrial revolution based on Cyber Physical systems and how it is going to impact our society. The third industrial revolution is estimated to have begun in the 1970’s and was based on innovations in  electronic, digital and IT systems. Now very few people have heard of the fourth industrial revolution, while some believe we are already a part of. The fourth industrial revolution will primarily be characterized by the blurring of lines between the physical, digital and biological systems. This concept has been popularized by Dr Klaus Schwab in his best selling book of the same name.

cyber physical systems

The Internet Of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality and Online gaming will form key components of this evolving system. There has also been an exponential growth in data generated in the form of text, audio, video and sensor data. Much of this data is uncertain and needs to be defined in the coming years. It is estimated that almost 90% of the data which is generated today on a daily basis remains uncertain. For instance did you know that airplanes on average generate 2.5 billion Terabytes of data every year from the different sensors installed in their engines and wings.

While the data generated has gone up exponentially, the costs of electronic storage and computing has dipped to almost zero. Innovative architectural approaches in building massive parallel processing clusters based on neural networks has now made it possible to analyze any large set of data. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is known to generates 25 petabytes every year. The LHC is also the largest, most complex and most powerful machine ever built by man and is a symbol of our civilization’s mastery of matter.

All these developments and trends indicate that in the coming years more such innovations are going to radically alter our society. These advances in computing, storage and sensors is being augmented by advances in Analytics. Analytics is often described as the scientific process of converting data into actionable insight to take informed decisions. The five broad types of Analytics are:-

  • Prescriptive Analytics (What should I do?)
  • Diagnostic Analytics (Why did it happen?)
  • Productive Analytics (What will happen?)
  • Descriptive Analytics (What has happened?)
  • Cognitive Analytics (Use of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in decision making.)

Cognitive Analytics has been the buzz word in the last few years and IBM’s Watson has emerged as the leader in the this segment. Cognitive Analytics involves applying natural language processing, computer vision and machine learning to large unstructured data and free text. The curious case of how IBM’s Watson helped treat a woman suffering from leukemia in 10 min is an indicator of the future of personalized medicine.

This brings us to the next big change leap which is Augmented Intelligence. Cognitive Analytics can be embodied in a robot, an avatar, an object or space to collaborate with humans to produce better outcomes. The Baxter robot developed by Rethink Robotics is one of the most prominent successes of augmented intelligence.

baxter robot

Now coming to the basic ethical issues faced in adopting these technologies is the Unintended Consequences that these new technologies can produce. For instance data is often used to train Machine Learning Systems which may have built in biases. This was noticed in the case of a software that was used assess the risk of recidivism by criminals was twice as likely to mistakenly flag black defendants being at higher risk of committing future crimes.

These were the highlights and salient points discussed by the speaker. The talk was followed by a discussion with the audience members. A summary of his talk is given below.


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