45th Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering meeting

Recently, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) held their 45th annual meeting online. CASE is a non-profit institution that is patterned after the National Academy of Sciences. The institution identifies and studies issues and technological advancements that are of concern to the state of Connecticut. Since the founding of CASE in 1976, the academy has fostered an environment that promotes collegial collaboration and support through the   encouragement of scientific and technological creativity. The theme of meeting was innovation. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed a lot of scientific research, CASE has been involved with the state providing vital research and guidance to promoting Connecticut’s success through the pandemic.

Nick Donofrio , the former vice president of innovation and technology for IBM, and David Ferruci of Elemental Cognition co-presented the keynote address. Nick Donofrio gave great insight on what is needed to be an innovator. Many scientists and engineers seek the answer and find the problem that the answer can be used for, however, Donofrio advised against this. Instead, he suggested that the individual or team must be intimate with the problem; to be a successful innovator, you must know the problem. It is better to start with a problem, rather than an answer for the problem. Ask questions, engage, and most importantly, listen. His words on innovation are not only applicable to the Covid-19 pandemic, but in Donofrio’s words, “the second pandemic of racism in this country”. To truly be collaborative, the team must be inclusive and diverse. No one person will have the answers to everything, and the more perspective you have the better understanding you will gain of the problem and how best to solve the problem. David Ferruci, followed with a presentation about his journey as an innovator. David Ferruci has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for over 25 years. He was the lead on IBM’s Watson project and now, he has his own company Elemental Cognition. David first got interested in AI during a computer programming class where he learned the power of programming and executing commands. He envisioned that this computational control would benefit the world. Starting with a simple command, could he program a computer to answer open-domain questions (i.e. Jeoprady). To create AI that could succeed in open-domain questions had a massive impact potential. Yet, accomplishing this goal could also have substantial risk. Ferruci felt that even though this monumental task had risk, stagnation would feel far worse. Long story short, his AI became the best question-answering AI in history. IBM’s Watson defeated all human contestants on the show Jeopardy. Ferruci said that the Watson project led to 1000s of additional research projects and papers came out of this AI milestone, hundreds of invited talks, billions of impressions, and it led to large scale commercialization efforts at IBM and elsewhere. More importantly, this AI project helped reimagine the art of the possible in AI. Thirty plus years later, David is still inspired from his original work on Watson, and has created a company that is trying to solve the problem in making robots understand things ( I need a better word). Dave was additionally one of the 36 newly inducted members into the academy that evening. 

To learn more about the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, visit their website at www.ctcase.org. To learn more about IBM’s Watson project, view the full story here https://www.aaai.org/Magazine/Watson/watson.php

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