Technology developed by an Australian company with strong connections to Griffith University is being hailed for providing human-machine interaction far superior to that of today’s smartphones and other communications systems.

The ‘virtual assistant’ technology is the creation of Cognea Artificial Intelligence, headed by Chief Innovation Officer Mr John Zakos – a Griffith Science and Information Technology graduate who completed his PhD in Information Technology in 2005 – and CEO and Griffith Business School graduate, Ms Liesl Capper. Mr Zakos has been an Adjunct Research Fellow with the School of ICT since 2008.

Their company was recently acquired by IBM Watson, an offshoot of multi-national technology giant IBM and launched with a focus on AI. The ingenuity driving Cognea, particularly its work in the field of cognitive computing, was an obvious drawcard for the new concern.

Cognitive computing uses image and speech recognition to comprehend theworld and interact more naturally with human users. IBM says it also provides a ‘feedback loop for machines and humans to learn from and teach each other’.

The technology has excited the attention of companies with significant consumer engagement. Cognea’s clients include major banks, NASA and media groups.

The Head of Griffith University’s School of Information and Communication Technology, Professor Michael Blumenstein, expressed the School’s pride in Mr Zakos’s achievements in the field of AI.

Technical skills, industry linkages

“John’s studies at Griffith exemplified the perfect blend of technical skills, industry linkages and entrepreneurial opportunities that have provided a pathway for success in one of the most exciting areas – computational intelligence systems,” he says.

“The field of ICT, particularly in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, provides a range of career opportunities that can literally take you anywhere and be very rewarding.”

IBM Watson’s New York-based senior vice president, Mr Michael Rhodin, applauded the diversity of Cognea’s virtual assistants ‘from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly’.

“Smart machines will serve as virtual personal assistants, health coaches and companions for elderly people, investment advisors, tutors, travel agents, customer care agents and shopping advisors,” he says.

“In each scenario, they’ll converse with you in the ways that will be most effective, based on who you are and what you want to accomplish.”