By Daniel Ruskin

On Thursday, Feb. 22, John J. Preli and Len Polhemus from IBM spoke to University of Connecticut (UConn) students and industry professionals about artificial intelligence (AI) computers such as IBM Watson.

Preli is the Director of Regulatory Management and Data Governance at The Weather Company, an IBM-acquired business. He spoke at the university as part of the UConn Innovators & Business Leaders Speaker Series.  

His talk focused on AI computers: computers that can make complicated decisions and predictions that would normally be left to humans.  In other words, they are computers that think.

One AI computer, IBM Watson, made headlines in 2011 for winning the game “Jeopardy!” – a game that has been impossible for computers to play until recently.

Preli outlined a number of practical use cases for IBM Watson such as improving operational efficiency for retail stores.  He even said that Watson could play a large role in the healthcare field, citing a pilot project with the University of North Carolina in which Watson was able to correctly predict cancer treatments 99% of the time.

But Preli was careful to note that Watson will not replace doctors anytime soon.

“Now, I want you to be very, very careful here – I am not talking about computers replacing doctors.  The ultimate treatment is going to be left up between the doctor and the patient. … What Watson allows him to do, is be much more efficient in his craft.  And he can turn to Watson just as he would turn to a medical book,” Preli said.

Following Preli’s lecture, Polhemus – a Managing Consultant with a Cognitive & Analytics team at IBM – delved into IBM’s analytics products in more depth.  He spoke about how their analytics tools have helped agriculture companies, sports teams and numerous other clients improve the efficiency of their operations.

Len Polhemus, IBM

Len Polhemus, Managing Consultant with the Cognitive & Analytics team of IBM’s Global Business Services.  Photo: Daniel Ruskin

Polhemus said that one particularly promising application of Watson is to help sports teams scout players and plan games.  

He explains, “When teams are going to other locations to play, change in altitude, change in pressure, change in humidity – those things all cause different risk of injury, what the player is going to perform like – right? – what the team makeup should look like.  It’s like fantasy football on a whole new level. … So we build models [to answer these questions].”

Polhemus also touched on a number of hot technology trends such as blockchain, quantum computing and mobile.

Both Preli and Polhemus encouraged audience participation and gave out prizes such as toy penguins and umbrellas to people who answered their questions.

Mostafa Analoui, the Executive Director of Venture Development at the UCONN Office for the Vice President of Research, said that the Innovators & Business Leaders Speaker Series benefits the UCONN community in several ways.

“The first objective is education … The second part of it is to encourage the speakers and students to get up, shake hands, and talk to each other. … It’s a great opportunity for future employment as well as … research,” Analoui said.

The Innovators & Business Leaders Speaker Series is sponsored by the Office for the Vice President of Research, the Technology Incubation Program and the School of Business.  

The next lecture will be given by Gary Brewster on Friday, Mar. 9th.  Brewster is a Managing Director at Houlihan Lokey and will discuss the valuation of emerging companies from an investment banking perspective; those interested in attending the event can register online.


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