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Computing's next 50-year frontier all about the 'learning age'

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The real computing aim is to create a new "multistate" model that moves away from the transistor-based architecture to something that will resemble the synapses in your brain.

NEW YORK -- Computing is now starting a "learning age" that will ultimately result it cognitive devices that learn.

That's the argument of IBM's Rod Adkins, senior vice president of the company's systems and technology business. Adkins is responsible for IBM's hardware systems, products and supply chain operations.

Big Blue today has been pushing heavily into analytics, business intelligence and integrated systems such as Watson that can play Jeopardy. In reality, Watson is a kick-off for what IBM and Adkins hope is a continual innovation march toward machines that can use artificial intelligence.

"Products like Watson are examples of where we're going with cognitive computing. There are more interesting developments beyond Watson in our research labs," he said. To Adkins, Watson and IBM's analytics software represents a foundation to more insight driven computing.

Watson learns from the information it ingests and analyzes it. Commercializing Watson revolves primarily around the healthcare industry. IBM on Wednesday highlighted Watson's pilots in healthcare settings. In a nutshell, Watson provides diagnosis possibilities for physicians to mull over.

However, Adkins noted that Watson is going to soon expand into other industries. Energy and utility optimization, trading systems and other verticals that require pattern recognition.

Are we there yet?

Not quite. IBM is moving analytics systems, but the real computing aim is to create a new "multistate" model. This model moves away from the transistor-based architecture that has dominated the last 50 years or so. In other words, the computing architecture of the future will resemble the synapses in your brain.

Adkins said cognitive computing will come as long as the company "stays on the treadmill of investment" and continues to focus on tight integration in every level of a computing system. IBM generally spends 6 percent of revenue on research and development hell or high water.

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Larry Dignan

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Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure