Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Do Self-Driving Cars and Documents Have in Common?

In case you missed it, Google had an announcement earlier this week about the rapidly improving reliability of their self-driving cars.  The cars now automatically recognize, pedestrians, trucks, and construction areas and even when a cyclist suddenly veers in front of the car.  Having logged more than 700,000 accident-free miles, it’s an impressive demonstration of a potentially society-altering capability.

So, why mention it here, other than its super-coolness factor?  Because of how it works.  Google’s self-driving cars function because they are taught to recognize patterns.  Patterns of behavior, actions, appearance, movement and trends.  Once a pattern is recognized, the cars’ on-board computer systems run a series of rapid-fire statistical algorithms to determine what is happening (context), and thus what actions the car should take.  Sound familiar?  It should.  This is the same kind of technology behind IBM’s Watson and Valora’s PowerHouse.

Much like Google teaching its cars to recognize a stroller in a crosswalk, Valora teaches PowerHouse to recognize a patent application in Chinese or a break in privilege from an email string.  Google’s vehicles accurately assess and predict traffic behavior patterns almost 100% of the time, much better than human beings.  Valora’s PowerHouse sees similar marks for accuracy and prediction. 

In addition to one day allowing us to text messages or read an e-book while we “drive,” the autonomous vehicles have another enormous advantage:  they better utilize roads, gas and electricity.  These types of benefits have broad-reaching impact beyond whether any one person is using or not using the self-driving car.  The same holds true for autonomous data mining.  Once the document house is in order, everyone benefits from easy, organized search, to intuitive data visualization to automated notifications of significant events.

Too bad I couldn't write this blog entry while on my way to work this morning…