Cogs in the Machine

Cognitive technology part of next wave, says futurist at Pinnacle conference

By 
Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Jack Shaw

FORT WORTH, Texas -- If the Internet was the last transformative technology to affect business and people's social lives, then cognitive technology--think the computer named "Watson" that beat the Jeopardy champions last year--will be the next one, according to one business futurist.

Speaking before about 150 attendees at a Pinnacle users' conference, Atlanta-based business consultant Jack Shaw said that after the advent of personal computers (PCs) in the 1980s, the client-server or mainframe integration to PCs in the 1990s and the Internet in the 2000s, "cognitive systems" or technology that can ultimately assess and make decisions with more competence than humans will be the next step.

Referring to the IBM computer pitted against two past champions of the TV game show Jeopardy, Shaw said "Watson" trounced the other two competitors, exhibiting reasoning capabilities that allowed the computer to analyze problems and make decisions with a high degree of confidence.

"It will vastly impact business and society," Shaw said.

He said some of the concepts already in test mode and beyond include driverless vehicles and automated stock buying. For convenience stores, computer-assisted ordering is an obvious example, as is energy management systems that help control costs by making sure unnecessary use is curtailed.

Transformative technologies have two distinct characteristics, according to Shaw. One is the deployment and critical mass of its predecessor trends. In other words, cognitive machines would not exist had the Internet not expanded the way it did. From that point, each wave has an exponentially greater impact that its predecessor, bringing "competitive, transformational and strategic advantages."

Many of the current consumer technology trends are contributing to the coming age of cognitive machines, including social media, mobile computing and tablet automation. Shaw said in four-to-five years, tablets will achieve parity with the PC population, giving way to a vision of large display screens powered by tablet intelligence and equipped with sensory and audio capabilities. That way, people can expand the tablet screen to walls or tabletops.

Shaw, who had experience in the c-store industry with a chain in Illinois, said retailers will need to use video embedded in their online media, since the cost of producing such messages has dropped dramatically. He also said mobile payment and social media are critical areas that retailers need to examine and leverage.

Cloud computing is also a necessary technology moving ahead. He said it eliminates the overhead of managing a data center, cuts technology costs by 30% to 50%, turns capital expenses into operational expenses and is accessible anytime from anywhere.

He said people often question the security of third-party data hosting, but those same retailers trust their data is safe in a server tucked away next to the janitor's closet vs. a professionally secured data warehouse.

Drew Mize, COO for Arlington, Texas-based The Pinnacle Corp., which sponsored Shaw's session, said cognitive systems are already an active part of many retailers' lives. "It's about real-time business analytics, computer-assisted ordering and item-level inventory," he said. "[Your systems] know reorder levels, lead times … and can make decisions for you."

The annual users' conference is in its 22nd year and offers Pinnacle clients a forum for continuing education and networking among peers. Pinnacle is a c-store focused software and point-of-sale (POS) provider.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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