Tag Archives: Innovation

Remember Watson?


How could anyone forget the IBM super computer that beat the world’s best Jeopardy players. In February it will be three years ago in my post Reference Librarian vs. Computer! I wrote;

…Watson will replace the reference librarian, because this computer has a million times more data in its memory, can respond to reference questions posed in spoken language, and provide a set of possible answers from which the inquirer can choose, with probabilities of accuracy for each answer. When was the last time you heard of a reference librarian giving a library customer several possible answers to a question?

Watch for yourself what Watson can do, and see what IBM has done, then tell me that reference librarians will not be replaced in the next 10 years.

Watch “Jeopardy” and see Watson in action – if you dare.

Last week the Wall Street Journal, IBM Watson’s Next Venture: Fueling New Era of Cognitive Apps Built in the Cloud by Developers, reported that IBM “announced that, for the first time, it will make its IBM Watson technology available as a development platform in the cloud, to enable a worldwide community of software application providers to build a new generation of apps infused with Watson’s cognitive computing intelligence.”

OK, IBM is trying to figure out how to recoup their jillion dollar investment, but what does that mean for librarians? Cognitive computer apps – WOW! That sounds both exhilarating and ominous. Computer and mobile apps are already amazing, like augmented reality apps 21st Century Libraries Look Like: Augmented Reality, so how much better could “cognitive” apps be?

The WSJ article goes on to elaborate that;

“By sharing IBM Watson’s cognitive abilities with the world, we aim to fuel a new ecosystem that accelerates innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Michael Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Software Solutions Group. “With this move, IBM is taking a bold step to advance the new era of cognitive computing. Together with our partners we’ll spark a new class of applications that will learn from experience, improve with each interaction and outcome, and assist in solving the most complex questions facing the industry and society.

IBM is unveiling its new ecosystem vision with three business partners that have developed early versions of Watson-powered apps, targeted to enter the market in 2014:

Fluid Retail: Fluid, which builds online shopping experiences for retail businesses to drive customer engagement and conversion, is developing the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper(sm) powered by IBM Watson. The app calls upon Watson’s ability to understand the nuances of human language and uncover answers from Big Data. Consumers who use Fluid’s app will interact with rich media and dialogue with Watson, as their newfound “cognitive, expert personal shopper.” The Fluid app incorporates the information users share and questions they ask to help them make smart, satisfying purchases by putting a knowledgeable sales associate in the hands of consumers, on demand.

MD Buyline: This provider of supply chain solutions for hospitals and healthcare systems is developing an app to allow clinical and financial users to make real-time, informed decisions about medical device purchases, to improve quality, value, outcomes and patient satisfaction. Hippocrates powered by IBM Watson will provide users with access to a helpful research assistant that provides fast, evidence based recommendations from a wealth of data, to help ensure medical organizations are making the best decisions for their physicians’ and patients’ needs.

Welltok: A pioneer in the emerging field of Social Health Management(TM), Welltok is developing an app that will create Intelligent Health Itineraries(TM) for consumers. These personalized itineraries, sponsored by health plans, health systems and health retailers, will include tailored activities, relevant content and condition management programs, and will reward users for engaging in healthy behaviors. Consumers who use Welltok’s app — CafeWell Concierge powered by IBM Watson — will participate in conversations about their health with Watson. By leveraging Watson’s ability to learn from every interaction, the app will offer insights tailored to each individual’s health needs. [Emphasis added.]

Sounds somewhat Orwellian doesn’t it.

Since its introduction in 2011, IBM Watson has evolved from a first-of-a-kind status, to a commercial cognitive computing system. Watson has gained a 240 percent improvement in system performance, and a reduction of 75 percent in the physical requirements needed to run the system which can now operate from a single Power 750 server with Linux from a cloud computing environment.

Using advances in natural language processing and analytics, Watson can process information similar to the way people think, representing a significant shift in the ability for organizations to quickly analyze, understand and respond to vast amounts of Big Data. The ability to use Watson to answer complex questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence has enormous potential to improve decision making across a variety of industries from healthcare to retail, telecommunications and financial services.

… and ordinary information access? How long before Watson begins to tackle the ever increasing and overwhelming volume of information in our every-day life? When it does it will be stepping into the librarian’s domain.

After the final results of the Watson – Ken Jennings Jeopardy challenge was over in which Watson walked away with the money, my follow-up post, And The Winner Is….., observed;

What if a Watson computer could significantly narrow the possible information retrieved from a search, rank those selections based on probability of being a match for the most appropriate and accurate information? Wouldn’t that drastically reduce the information overload? The volume of information is not likely to decrease significantly any time in the future, so having a computer to sort through relevant information, select the most appropriate and even recommend statistically which is best – isn’t that a good thing?

And concluded that post with a challenge – of sorts – that bears repeating.

While the future appears bleak for “reference librarian” functions in light of Watson computers, doesn’t it make sense to embrace the change and use it to the benefit of the library customer? (With the same spirit Bunny did with EMERAC.) Isn’t that what we’re all about? Or are we about protecting our jobs and elite “librarian” status? Are we about change and progress in library services? Or are we about trying to preserve the past elite status of librarianship?

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21st Century Libraries Look Like: True Innovation


In February of this year I posted 21st Century Libraries and Librarians Look Like: Innovation with a list of eight links to new and innovative ideas “that to me typify what the 21st Century Library looks like – what it does – what it symbolizes – how it performs – how it benefits its community – how it remains relevant – and most of all, how it is different in the 21st Century.”

It’s taken most of the year to run across a new and even more expansive list, this one developed by Pew Internet & American Life Project, titled Library Services in the Digital Age by Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie and Kristen Purcell. While this is another relatively useful Pew report about who’s doing what to who in the library, an offshoot report by Kathryn Zickuhr, Innovative library services “in the wild”, is really the crux of this post, because it deals with an interesting list of innovations in library services, some awesome, some not really new.

Their intro to the list of library innovations simply states;

But we also wanted to include illustrations of some of these more innovative services, to see what they look like on the ground. To that end, we’ve collected examples of many of the types of services mentioned in the report, as well as some “fun and funky” services that we’ve seen pop up at libraries across the county.

We’ll keep updating the list with new examples as we hear about them. Does your library have a neat service we should know about? Send us an email and let us know! And many thanks to everyone who has sent in examples so far.

So, if your library has any really great innovative ideas that you want the world to know about, let Pew Research know and they’ll share it with the library world.

My favorite part of their list was the state-by-state listing of innovations that include the following. There are many more states and libraries with somewhat innovative programming, but the ones below look to me like true innovations.

Colorado
A librarian in the home: “This program sends librarians outside the library to the far reaches of their rural service area. Librarians are vetted and trained for this very specialized program, and often teach patrons on technology in their own living rooms.” Poudre River Public Library District, Fort Collins, CO

Florida
“Lost in the Stacks,” a one-hour weekly radio show, is done in partnership with the local NPR affiliate, WJCT. “DJs/librarians Andrew Coulon and Matthew Moyer play diverse selections from the library’s collection. Sometimes include local musicians and educators join Coulon and Moyer in the studio to select songs from the collection and share how these pieces have influenced their own lives.” Jacksonville Public Library

Montana
Early literacy / wildlife “trunks”: “The Montana State Library has developed a partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. The trunks, which we refer to as ‘Ready 2 Read Goes Wild,’ utilize the ‘Growing Up Wild’ curriculum with a focus on Montana wildlife. We have developed trunks that feature ungulates, bears, owls, creepy-crawlies, water, and tracks. Each of the trunks includes between 15 – 20 books on the subject, (both fiction and non-fiction); puppets; the Growing Up Wild curriculum guide; and wildlife resources, such as grizzly hides, elk antlers, deer hooves, a number of rubber tracks, skulls, and more. … Additionally, MT FWP staff works with libraries across the state to provide programming in libraries on MT animals.” There is a short video about the program here. Montana State Library

New Jersey
Historic Walk Through Your Hometown – Guided walk through Bradley Beach in collaboration with Borough Historian that highlights significant historic landmarks and events. Bradley Beach Public Library

Oregon
Naked Came the Rogue: a Serial Mystery set in Southern Oregon’s Jackson County – a serial mystery book, written by 9 local authors, based on librarians helping to solve the mystery of the dead bodies popping up in or near some local libraries. Ashland Branch of the Jackson County Library Services

Texas
Living Books: Patrons “can ‘check out’ (interview) an interesting person on a specific subject-such as a mathematician or artist.” Georgetown Public Library

Virginia
Online E-Resources Scavenger Hunt: “The Library of Virginia and Credo Reference . . . partnered together to create a set of questions that take users through a virtual adventure, where points are earned and research know-how is accumulated. Those that successfully make it to the end of the mission even receive a printable certificate acknowledging the online trek.” Library of Virginia and Credo Reference

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