The Semantic Web may have failed, but higher intelligence is coming to applications anyway, in another form: Cognition-as-a-Service (CaaS). And this may just be the next evolution of the operating system.
CaaS will enable every app to become as smart as Siri in its own niche. CaaS powered apps will be able to think and interact with consumers like intelligent virtual assistants — they will be "cognitive apps." You will be able to converse with cognitive apps, ask them questions, give them commands — and they will be able to help you complete tasks and manage your work more efficiently.
For example your calendar will become a cognitive app — it will be able to intelligently interact with you to help you manage your time and scheduling like a personal assistant would — but the actual artificial intelligence that powers it will come from a third-party cloud based cognitive platform.
Cognitive apps will not be as intelligent as humans anytime soon, and they probably will not be anything like the 20th century ideas of humanoid robots. But they’re going to be a lot smarter than the software of today.
But the key is that the intelligence that powers cognitive apps will come from cloud based platforms that host their brains — the apps themselves won’t really have to be that smart on their own. Which means that truly vast, always increasing, intelligence will be available via APIs to all kinds of apps, and right into the full range of consumer appliances, devices and even the Internet of things. All apps and even things will start to become cognitive.
Even in the last few months several interesting announcements were made that all signify this trend:
The startup, Vicarious, has developed a new form of AI that is capable of reading CAPTCHA images, the most widely used test for differentiating human and computer actions online.
Next IT announced the Alme platform for virtual healthcare assistants, furthering the development of intelligent virtual assistants with domain-specific expertise
Stephen Wolfram announced the Wolfram Language, which models the world and combines both programs and data — what he calls a new “language for the global brain,” — that will essentially be able to weave sophisticated computational knowledge into everything.
And finally, IBM announced it is going allow third-party developers to build cognitive apps that leverage cognition hosted in the cloud on Watson.
All of these announcements foretell the development of platforms that will allow apps and services to all function more intelligently and intuitively. In fact, the coming competition between different CaaS platforms may be the 2015 – 2030 equivalent of the operating systems wars of the 1980s and 1990s. This means CaaS platforms are the strategic high ground in the battle to own the future operating system of the Web and mobile applications — the operating system of the global, networked brain itself.
We already see growing signs of heated competition between Apple and Google to make smarter mobile virtual intelligent assistants. How long before both companies open up API’s to their CaaS platforms to the rest of their ecosystems?
App developers will soon need to choose which CaaS ecosystem to build on — Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, or maybe even Wolfram’s new Wolfram Language ecosystem.
In the long-run however, a more vendor neutral cognition platform may emerge as the winner: one that is more like Amazon Web Services in that it just provides the underlying service and doesn’t compete with third-party apps that use it. This could come from Amazon, or Wolfram perhaps. CaaS platforms may eventually even be open-sourced and made widely available — perhaps via a Linux equivalent for the cognitive operating system era that might borrow from many of the original ideas and standards of the Semantic Web.
The original goal of the Semantic Web was to provide an open framework for apps to integrate and reason across any data in any repository, anywhere. But the open standards that were introduced by the WC3, such as RDF and OWL have proved to be unwieldy and difficult for non-computer scientists to grasp.
Where CaaS comes in is that much of the reasoning capabilities that Semantic Web hoped to enable could now become simple APIs in the cloud that any developer can use, without needing a PhD. As we head toward 2020, CaaS will make the world more helpful. The cognitive operating system will reach out and connect our bodies and even REACH into them via augmented reality devices like Google Glass, and the quantified self movement.
Everything is going to get smarter. Your phone, your calendar, your watch, your radio, your TV, your car, your refrigerator, your house, your glasses, your briefcase and clothing. The vast cognitive capabilities of the global CaaS providers will be cheap and available via APIs to every device from the nano scale up to the giant global applications and services.
A world that is constantly thinking and trying to help out with every little task, could be more efficient, but it could also potentially feel pretty annoying, obsessive compulsive, and invasive to us. But a world where everything is smart probably will be quite normal to our grandkids. In their world cognition as a service could be as ubiquitous as electricity is for us today.
Nova Spivack is the co-founder and CEO of Bottlenose, an angel investor, and a noted technology futurist.