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COGNO 2.0 — Designed for the human mind

The next generation of technology design

John D. Kemp, Abilities! President and CEO


Today, technology has capabilities that most of us would not have thought possible a decade ago. It can gather information from countless sources known and unknown to us and analyze that data based on a wide range of predetermined variables to deliver insights that make businesses more efficient and profitable and individuals more productive. For example, social analytics can help anticipate individual buying preferences. Many cars can 'sense' a driver's level of eye fatigue and, when necessary, respond by slowing down the vehicle to prevent accidents. Software can suggest new music based on a few songs that we 'like' or 'dislike.'

However, despite all these amazing advancements, technology is still limited. Only the human mind can adapt on the fly and incorporate new and undefined variables to make the best decisions with insights delivered by information and communications technology (ICT).

But thanks to ongoing research into the way the human mind works, technology systems that directly support and optimize our natural decision-making processes are right around the corner. IBM's deep Q&A supercomputer, Watson, which last year defeated two human champions in the television trivia game, Jeopardy!, represents the beginning of this work.  The ultimate goal is not the kind of unchecked artificial intelligence we see in apocalyptic science fiction movies, but rather technology that leverages patterns of human cognition to become smarter with every use and experience.

Below, Abilities! President and CEO John Kemp explains how a group of people and national organizations with a stake in promoting cognitive research and the development of new products and services based on the research, has established the COGNO 2.0 Initiative to advance the science of applying human cognitive processes to ICT systems design.

Beginning of a new era in augmenting human cognition

Fundamental research is adding to what we know about human cognition and cognitive processes on almost a daily basis. Overlaying this knowledge onto our burgeoning information and communications infrastructure is providing the potential to revolutionize our lives. The founders of the COGNO 2.0 Initiative believe that we are at the beginning of a new era in which our increased understanding of human cognition deeply informs the design of systems. This will be a world in which technology both enhances our abilities to interact with people and the world around us, but also is a powerful tool in compensating for any personal limitations and disabilities. We see an impact so profound that deploying this knowledge and these tools will be akin to turning a page in human history. We see ourselves at the beginning of a new era in augmenting human cognition; one in which existing paradigms are constantly challenged, disrupted, and displaced. If unsupported human thought is 'cognition version 1.0', this emerging paradigm of augmented cognition is so revolutionary as to be 'cognition version 2.0'; a construct that lends its name to the creation of the COGNO 2.0 Initiative.

Why the COGNO 2.0 Initiative was created

The COGNO 2.0 Initiative was created to accelerate the development of enhanced cognitive capabilities and the integration of those capabilities into products and services which improve how we live, work and play. Our underlying tenet is that there are two very large fields of research and innovation that each fundamentally bear on human cognition and learning. However, it is our observation that these fields are nearly unaware of each other. One field starts with the 'human condition', in all its myriad expressions, and studies ways to overcome cognitive and learning limitations and alleviate the impact of unavoidable human disabilities or impairments. The field is vast in its consideration of a nearly limitless range of conditions, but very particular in its delivery of 'solutions' (truly individual on a 'symptom by symptom' basis, but often with little consideration of systemic effects, both at the individual and societal levels). The current solution scope is oriented toward the technologies of medical intervention, pharmacology, rehabilitation engineering, advanced prosthetics, and bioengineered devices.

We believe there are many potential business opportunities and efficiencies available in addressing the wide range of human differences in a holistic and scalable way — both in consideration of the full individual 'person by these established sciences, but also through the active recognition of unmet systemic needs in the 'human family'.

The other large field that fundamentally bears on human cognition and learning, but that is often insensitive to the fact that it does, is information and communication technology (ICT). This field is spawning a seemingly limitless family of technologies that are deeply entwining themselves into our world. Indeed, they already touch nearly every aspect of our lives.

This field has taken almost no account of the vast range of human differences and abilities, and has adopted a solution approach that is largely 'one size fits all', with personalization usually amounting to 'discover and tinker with a few settings we have provided, if you must'.

Whereas the first field ends up being very particular in its delivery, with consequent challenges to discovering and leveraging best practices to scale, this second field scales with ease, and social computing and the network effect are leading to cycles of innovation and optimization that are unprecedented. We believe there are large latent business opportunities available in harnessing the motive force of ICT innovation to actively address and support the extraordinarily rich tapestry of variations in human capabilities, and to make measurable differences in human accomplishment and the achievement of each individual's full potential.

Goal: Collaboration to accelerate the pace of innovation

The goal of this initiative is to bring these two fields together, to recognize and begin a dialogue across the enormous 'gap' that exists today. We are creating an open ecosystem, an environment to facilitate cross-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary collaboration to accelerate the pace of innovation. The ICT communities have much to learn from the massive depth and breadth of the sciences that regard the human condition. The medical/pharma/ therapy/advocacy communities have an equally great amount to learn about how ICT systems can change peoples' lives, in systemic, scalable, measurably valuable, and ultimately highly-optimized ways.

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