IBM continues pursuit of cognitive question answering systems

The International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE: IBM) of Armonk, NY, is a multinational technology and consulting corporation with an unshakable lead in the realm of intellectual property development. The corporation has spearheaded a lot of development in cloud computing and there is much speculation about the competitiveness of IBM’s POWER platform as an alternative to Intel’s cloud computing systems. This and other cloud services offered by IBM may become even more popular thanks in part to a dramatic simplification of its cloud computing contracts which was recently unveiled. The application of IBM’s Big Data technologies to multiple fields, from healthcare to social media, could bring the company greater revenues during 2015, according to some industry critics.

Because of the incredible scope of patenting activities in which IBM is involved, today’s Companies We Follow article will be the first of a two-part series on IBM. In this column, we’re focused on examining technological developments which we found in patent applications filed by this company with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Piggybacking on the success of IBM’s Watson system, we feature a trio of technologies in the field of question answering systems. The provisioning of computing resources for creating more efficient technologies is also explored. Other patent applications that we discuss in more detail include methods of measuring audience attention, developing panoramic images from multiple images captured by drones as well as a technology for interrupting presentations in order to deliver important messages.



Creating Better Question Answering Systems

In recent years, IBM has gained a great deal of notoriety for the development of computer systems which include cognitive understanding elements for the creation of question answering systems. The latest IBM development in this field which has captured mainstream attention is Watson, a cognitive question answering system that beat two human contestants on the game show Jeopardy in 2011, including renowned Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings. To create such a powerful system, IBM developed Watson as a programmatic computing platform with natural language processing, dynamic learning and hypothesis generation and evaluation capabilities. Watson’s success has inspired a number of development projects in this field during recent years, many of which are built upon open-source architecture. In some cases, these projects are utilizing the same open-source technologies which are used as components of Watson.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365502, entitled “Determining Answers in a Question/Answer System When Answer is Not Contained in Corpus.”

Continually intrigued by this area of innovation, which in many ways seems akin to the Star Trek computer, were found a trio of patent applications that captured our attention. First, methods for determining answers to questions when those answers must be derived from information outside of the question answering system are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365502, entitled Determining Answers in a Question/Answer System When Answer is Not Contained in Corpus. The method of generating an answer for an input question claimed by this patent application involves analyzing the input question to determine if it is requesting an answer which is calculable, retrieving data values for calculating the requested answer and outputting the calculated value to a user. This system would enable users to find answers to statistical questions when the specific statistic being sought isn’t included in the body of information used by the question answering system. In an example given by the patent application to illustrate its potential, this technology could allow a person to find the batting average of a Major League Baseball player in night games during a period of one month.

The speed with which question answering systems can process the annotation of metadata related to requested information should be improved thanks to the technology expressed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140359421, which is titled Annotation Collision Detection in a Question and Answer System. This innovation is designed to reduce the chances that multiple annotators, or programs which attach metadata to text to build a data structure that can be referenced by other programs, will create conflicting annotations on the same portion of a text. The patent application would protect a method for resolving annotation conflicts that involves receiving content for annotating, performing annotation operations that generate a plurality of sets of annotations and resolving conflicts between first and second annotations to generate a resultant set of annotations.

This company has also developed a novel system for incorporating data collected from sensors on mobile devices into a corpus of information for answering questions in a question answering system. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365517, titled QA Based on Context Aware, Real-Time Information from Mobile Devices, discusses the provision of a data collection framework which collects information from mobile devices in real time so that a question answering application can utilize the information to answer questions. The patent application claims a method for question answering that involves the receipt of a natural language query, translating that query into a data request, determining the collection requirements in a data capture system and using the data capture system to obtain raw data in real time. This innovation allows question answering systems to leverage the data that can be obtained through mobile edge capture and analytics (MECA), which provides a configurable framework for the primitive processing of raw data into phenomenon data which can be utilized by question answering applications.


Systems for Management of Computing Resources for Smartphones, eBooks

The R&D activities of IBM also focus heavily on the development of better systems for provisioning computing resources. At the enterprise level, IBM has developed a suite of infrastructure resource management services for overseeing IT-driven infrastructure and supporting e-business initiatives pursued by organizations. One example is the Tivoli Provisioning Manager created by IBM for the automation of IT resource lifecycle management, which can create thousands of virtual machines and optimizes resource availability. In this and other resource provisioning technologies, a great focus is placed upon the quick deployment and scaling of services as well as the ability to integrate services with other environments and application program interfaces (APIs).

Two patent applications in this field stuck out during our recent survey of IBM innovations. The provisioning of features and capabilities in mobile devices is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140372598, titled Optimizing Resource Usage in Systems Which Include Heterogeneous Devices, Including Sensors and Smartphones. The computer-readable storage medium claimed by this patent application stores a program of executable instructions to perform a method of devices in a system that receives information associated with multiple devices, including their sets of capabilities, and determining capabilities that must be activated for the system. This technology is designed to reduce redundant or duplicate capabilities that may occur when creating an overall system from a plurality of individual devices.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365875, titled “Resource Provisioning for Electronic Books.”

Proactive resource provisioning for electronic books which offer dynamic content is described by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365875, filed under the title Resource Provisioning for Electronic Books. The method of provisioning IT resources claimed here includes receiving a signal from an e-book reading device indicating that a user is approaching a practical procedure section within an e-book which includes an exercise to be performed by the user and pertaining to the book’s subject matter, determining what IT resources are required to perform the exercise and providing those resources so that they are ready when the user is ready to perform the exercise. This innovation could be applied to digital educational texts that are designed to offer exercises, mathematical operations or other dynamic content that enriches the educational experience.



Technologies for Creating a More Effective Presentation Experience

Businesses need technologies that help them deliver an engaging experience when delivering presentations of all kinds. IBM has a focus on developing and implementing technologies for presentation based upon the specific needs of a company and who information is being presented, from executive staff members to large numbers of shareholders. This corporation has already developed systems such as the IBM Lotus Symphony Presentations, but as you’ll see in the next paragraph, we found some interesting technologies for business presentations that go well beyond slideshow software programs.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140363000, entitled “Real-Time Audience Attention Measurement and Dashboard Display.”

Interruptions during presentations are typically considered to be undesirable, which is perhaps why we were so interested in an IBM innovation seeking to create a system for interrupting a presentation to disseminate important information. That is exactly what was found when we explored U.S. Patent Application No. 20140372538, which is titled System and Method for Generating Intentional Interruptions During Gatherings. The patent application would protect a system for generating interruptions involving the use of a messaging module that generates a message for one or more recipients, an interruption management module which detects that a computing device is being used for a presentation and interrupting the presentation with the message if the recipients are in the audience. The interruption mechanisms utilized by this invention could include pop-ups, banners or other alerts that purposefully and temporarily switch the context of a conference so that the message, such as a text message or e-mail, can be delivered to audience members or the presenter. Techniques for assessing the level of attention which an audience is paying to a presenter are discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140363000, entitled Real-Time Audience Attention Measurement and Dashboard Display. This patent application claims a method of determining the attentiveness of an audience within a room by using a computer to determine the amounts of wireless activity of a computing device within the room and initiate a display of a measure of attentiveness over the duration of the presentation to show changes in the measures of attentiveness.


Authenticating Information Found Online or in Data Sets

It is crucial for businesses and individuals alike to make sure that they are operating and making decisions while in possession of the most accurate data possible. The expansion of the Internet has been helpful in some ways but it has also created a platform through which false data can be widely disseminated. Authentication of devices, especially mobile clients, has been an area of research for IBM in recent years, but we wanted to share a couple of technologies aimed at the authentication and verification of data developed by this company.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365571, entitled “Automatically Determining Veracity of Documents Posted in a Public Forum.”

Public forums, such as message boards, are useful for communication among geographically dispersed members but are also susceptible to gathering incorrect information which may affect the decisions of others. One IBM innovation seeking to reduce this is explained within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365571, entitled Automatically Determining Veracity of Documents Posted in a Public Forum. This method of determining the veracity of an online posting involves identifying a topic and action originators for the posting, collecting veracity information which is related to a set of action originators, assigning a veracity weighting to that set and providing a weighted veracity summary to viewers of the online posting. This technology improves on conventional methods of determining veracity for online postings which require ratings from human users. A technology for identifying fraudulent data in sets through the application of Benford’s law, which regards the frequency distribution of digits in data, could be protected for IBM through the filing of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140359759, filed under the title Fraudulent Data Detector. The patent application claims an apparatus for identifying suspicious data records that includes a hardware selector for identifying fields within records which are appropriate for a Benford analysis, a Benford analysis engine calculating a Benford distribution for each field and a hardware aggregator for summing a total score for each record analyzed. This innovation allows for the application of Benford’s law to small data sets, for which it is typically difficult to apply that law designed to identify patterns in a record.


Other Notable IBM Innovations 

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140362107, titled “Generating a Composite Field of View Using a Plurality of Oblique Panoramic Images of a Geographic Area.”

There were a couple of other innovations included in patent applications filed by IBM with the USPTO that didn’t exactly fit a theme, but that we still felt were worth sharing. A technology for imaging large geographical areas with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is explained within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140362107, titled Generating a Composite Field of View Using a Plurality of Oblique Panoramic Images of a Geographic Area. The computer-implemented method that would be protected generates a composite geo-referenced panoramic field of view image of a geographic area by calculating the geodetic coordinates for a plurality of pixels in a digital image capturing the geographic area, mapping the pixels with the calculated coordinates and generating a composite panoramic field of view based on the pixel mapping.

Computing systems that are designed to enable real-time collaborative techniques with a multitude of participants will benefit from the innovation expressed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140365920, entitled Human-to-Human Collaborative Session Request Queue Processing. This technology is designed to address shortcomings in real-time collaboration systems that occur when a user has a multitude of pending sessions, which may make prioritizing the sessions difficult. The data processing system claimed here includes a messenger configured to couple with other messengers and queue management logic that prioritizes the incoming session requests based on weighted and applied rules; the system then presents the prioritized requests on a computer’s graphical user interface.

Finally, we were greatly intrigued by an IBM innovation regarded an embedded experience (EE) application which can be integrated into other applications and provide users with regularly updated and pertinent information. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140359474, titled Maximizing Information Consumption in Embedded Experience Apps/Pop-Ups and Newsfeed/Activity Streams, is directed at the updating of news feeds or other interactive elements within an application for the rendering of new content while also removing redundant data. The patent application claims a method for controlling information to be displayed on a display device which involves displaying interactable data on a first display view, detecting a user selection of the data, identifying redundant data between the electronic data and content to be rendered, removing the redundant data and displaying the content without the redundant data on a second display view.


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