You may have heard that AI (or cognitive) era applications are “probabilistic”. What does that really mean?
Let me illustrate with two hypothetical applications.
You hire me to write a billing application for your consulting firm. You give me the list of all your employees and their hourly billing rates. You also give me last year’s data, including the number of hours each consultant worked for each client account and the bills you generated.
I do my development and come back to you later and say “I’ve finished the application and testing shows it computes the correct amount for 90% of the bills”. What do you say? You say,
- You’re not done yet
- You’re not getting paid yet
- Get back to work
This is a classic “procedural era” application. We all expect — and demand — 100% correct answers for procedural era applications.
Now let’s change the requirements a little bit. Sometimes you give discounts and sometimes you give freebies. You do this because it makes clients happy — and happy clients are important to your business. Sometimes you do this for your largest clients, because they bring you so much business. Sometimes you do this for clients that are considering big orders, because you want to show how much you value them. Sometimes you do this for “friends & family” clients, because increasing their happiness increases your own happiness.
Again, you give me the bills for the last year. And again, I do my development and come back to you and say “I’ve finished the application and testing shows it computes the correct amount for 90% of the bills”. What do you say this time? You say
- This is fabulous
- Here’s a bonus for such a high accuracy rate
- I’ve got this other program I’d like you to write for me.
Why such a different response between these two similar applications?
This is a classic “cognitive era” application. There’s no obvious formula for how to make clients happy. An expectation for 100% correct answers is completely unrealistic. For some medical diagnoses, even expert physicians only agree with each other about 85% of the time, so how can we ever even think a computer program can be correct 100% of the time.
The example illustrates that we must change our mindset as we move into the cognitive era. While a few application achieve NEAR (but not exactly) 100% accuracy (e.g. hand-writing digit classification), many successful cognitive era applications achieve well below 90% accuracy. 70% and 80% accuracy is the best we’ve been able to achieve.
Perfection is simply not a realistic goal in the cognitive era.
That’s why we say cognitive applications are PROBABILISTIC.
|Scott N. Gerard|