What is Cognitive Computing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cognitive computing refers to the development of computer systems modeled after the human brain. Originally referred to as artificial intelligence, researchers began to use the modern term instead in the 1990s, to indicate that the science was designed to teach computers to think like a human mind, rather than developing an artificial system. This type of computing integrates technology and biology in an attempt to re-engineer the brain, one of the most efficient and effective computers on Earth.

Cognitive computer systems are modeled after the human brain.
Cognitive computer systems are modeled after the human brain.

Cognitive computing has its roots in the 1950s, when computer companies first began to develop intelligent computer systems. Most of these systems were limited, however, because they could not learn from their experiences. Early artificial intelligence could be taught a set of parameters, but was not capable of making decisions for itself or intelligently analyzing a situation and coming up with a solution. Enthusiasm for the technology began to wane, as scientists feared that an intelligent computer could never be developed.

However, with major advances in cognitive science, researchers interested in computer intelligence became enthused. Deeper biological understanding of how the brain worked allowed scientists to build computer systems modeled after the mind, and most importantly to build a computer that could integrate past experiences into its system. Cognitive computing was reborn, with researchers at the turn of the 21st century developing computers which operated at a higher rate of speed than the human brain did.

Cognitive computing integrates the idea of a neural network, a series of events and experiences which the computer organizes to make decisions. The neural network contributes to the computer's body of knowledge about a situation and allows it to make an informed choice, and potentially to work around an obstacle or a problem. Researchers argue that the brain is a type of machine, and can therefore potentially be replicated. The development of neural networks was a large step in this direction.

As the body of knowledge about the brain grows and scientists experiment more with cognitive computing, intelligent computers are the result. Smart computers which are capable of recognizing voice commands and acting upon them, for example, are used in many corporate phone systems. Cognitive computing is also used in many navigation systems onboard aircraft and boats, and while these systems often cannot handle crises, they can operate the craft under normal conditions.

At the turn of the 21st century, many researchers believed that cognitive computing was the hope of a near future. By replicating the human brain in computer form, researchers hope to improve conditions for humans as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the biological reactions that power the brain. Computers capable of reason were beginning to emerge in the late 1990s, with hopes for consciousness following.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


What is a turning machine? Does the turning formulation of universal computation apply to all forms of cognition?

Is the human mind/brain a turning Complete Quantum Computer ?


@clintflint - I've read science fiction where the author has speculated that we'll need to be able to figure out how to store information biologically before we'll be able to really get into that kind of complex flexible computing.

If we can figure out how to grow computer brain cells, we will be able to just use their natural ability to store information to our advantage.


@Mor - I think the problem is still space. We have extremely fast computers now, but they still can't rival the human brain for storage and capabilities. I know it seems impressive when you see a computer calculate some astronomical equation, but the human brain does so much more every second. It's controlling multiple aspects of your biology, including every minute movement you make and your heart and your hormones and so forth, as well as storing everything that you know and everything that you can do (and this includes muscle memory and things you probably aren't even aware of knowing).

Even teaching a computer how to move an artificial arm in a way that won't crush a glass takes a huge amount of power, let alone all the other things your brain can do without even trying.

That's why we have computer cognition that works in parts, with a single problem solved, but the whole aspect still out of reach for now.


I think it's fascinating that most of the time it seems like the most successful cognitive computers work by learning information in a kind of organic way.

I know there's a project where they set up a couple of computers so that they could learn from interacting with people over the internet and had those people attempt to teach the computers language. I'm not sure of all the details because I read about it a while ago but if I remember correctly it was more successful than the researchers were even expecting.

I don't think it's going to be very long before we start seeing computers that can astonish us with their complex psychology and cognitive abilities.

Post your comments
Forgot password?