Expert Systems vs. Neural Networks

Businesses around the world utilize different kinds of systems in order to help them direct their company and gain competitive advantage over their competition. These businesses use two different kind of systems to help them which are expert systems and neural networks. Both of these systems help solve problems but they work in entirely different ways.

The first characteristic that differs between them is the way that they process information. Expert systems use sequential processing by going through the data one line or rule at a time. It basically goes through the process logically using rule concepts to guide it to its answer.  It is best used for questions that involve calculations such as balancing checkbooks and inventory management. Artificial neural networks process their data in a parallel environment. This means that it can do more than one thing at a time while trying to come up with the best solution. It can also process information such as images and pictures which expert systems can not process.

Another characteristic in which they differ is how they learn in order to have the knowledge to solve problems. Expert systems learn by being fed rules didactically. The system uses this knowledge base in order to know what path it should take when certain questions are answered the way that they are. They also learn from accounting, word processing, math inventory and digital communication application. Neural networks learn by example and interpretation. Some of the ways that they learn include sensor processing, speech recognition, pattern recognition and text recognition.

There also also some smaller characteristics that make them different as well. Expert systems use traditional processors while neural networks use artificial neural networks to process information.  This includes a variety of technologies and hardware.  The processing approach of an expert system is separate and can only process one rule at a time while neural networks’ processing approach is the same or simultaneously. Expert systems are externally programmed while neural networks are dynamically self programming meaning it teaches itself what it needs to know. An expert system can only learn algorithmic parameters which neural networks are continuously adaptable.  Another difference is that expert systems so not have any fault tolerances without special processors but neural networks have significant fault tolerances that falls within the very nature of its interconnected neurons. Expert systems are also not based in neurobiology while neural networks are moderately based on that field. Neural networks mimic the entire biological environment and are similar to our nervous systems. Expert systems mimic human decision making only.  Finally their ability to be fast differs as well. Expert systems require big processors in order to be fast. Neural networks require multiple custom built chips that compliment its learning ability to be fast.

The similarities between them are basically that they can help businesses solve problems and make decisions. Some of the systems are geared more toward certain problem solving skills but they both help the company gain competitive advantage. They both have their faults too. Businesses need to make sure that they choose the right systems for their situation and feed it the right information of program it correctly to get the desired results.

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Neural Network Systems

Neural network systems are composed of nodes that use artificial intelligence to take input that it is given and turn it into meaningful output. It is very similar to the way the human brain works. People take input from the sounding environment and the brain processes that information and creates output in the form of reasoning and actions. Neural networks basically take complex data sets and within a margin of error, can predict the outcome of these data.

There are basically two kinds of neural networks.  There are biological neural networks that are made up of biological neurons and are connected in a nervous system. These are used in the field of neuroscience in biological analysis. The other kind is known as artificial neural networks because it uses some form of artificial intelligence to process the data for output. These can be used to solve real world problems and to help solve biological questions about our nervous system. Basically you have the shell and neurons in a neural network.  You have to have nodes and the ability to connect those nodes together in order to have a complete neural network. The number of actual and neurons within a neural network can be small or it can be extremely extensive. The connection between each node is known as synapses and are usually formed through electrical connections. The artificial neural network uses a mathematical model based on the connections of the nodes in order to approach the computation.  The artificial neural network basically mimics the biological network in most all ways.

Companies can benefit many ways from implementing these artificial neural networks.  These systems are useful to companies that have highly complexity to their data and need to make sense of it.  To try to figure these problems out by hand is very impracticable so therefor companies use these systems to solve the problems.  Companies can use them for data processing. Sometimes companies have suck a vast amount of data that doing the work by hand would almost be impossible. These systems can take that “big” data and make sense of it much more efficiently. Companies can also use these systems for functional modeling.  For instance, if a company wanted to know how to most efficiently produce the product that they sell then they can input all the data about the various variables that go into producing that product and get a calculated answer on the right steps to take.  These systems can also help companies detect patterns.  This kind of system would help a company better target consumers for their type of product.

One example where neural networks are used is in the video game industry.  When you are playing any type of video game and you choose to play against a computer opponent, the programming that goes into that computer opponent is basically an artificial  neural network. The computer determines what you are doing as a human player and then takes that data to decide what the best action would be to defeat you. The computer won’t do the same thing every time because the human player will always change their strategy in order to beat the computer.  In turn, the computer reanalyzes the data and changes its own strategy based on what you are now doing. The best video games usually have very intricate artificial neural systems embedded into the computer AI.

Emotion Machine Speech

Marvin Minsky’s speech overall theme had to do with “artificial intelligence” AI. This is basically the ability for a machine such as a computer or some type or robot to be able to learn and solve problems in the same way that a human can.  Minsky talks about the ways that an AI system can be programmed in order to solve certain problems and he also explains the shortcomings of these systems.  They can do many things but entirely replacing human decisions is a ways off still.

Minsky’s speech illustrates the various types of logic that can be used to analyze different types of problems.  These types of logic can be more useful for some problems than others. The problem with this type of problem solving is that the system can only do what you told it that it can do. If you ask it to figure out something that it doesn’t have the knowledge base to understand then it will not be able to formulate a solution.  Minsky does go into how a combination of different logical systems would most likely take us closer to a solution to find a true emotion engine.

An emotion engine is a system that can think, learn and feel just like a human can. It can also think in “common sense” terms and feel emotions while solving a problem. Systems today can not tell the difference between two 3D objects.  If you had a system try to figure out which one is a dog and which one is a cat, it could not. If you tried to have a computer system tell you how a certain color makes it feel then you would  not get back an answer that you would expect. Emotion systems could do all of this by being able to learn what certain situations do to feelings and also be able to understand common sense in order to analyze situations that could have multiple meanings. The systems today can tell you why the sky is blue and that grass is green but it can not understand that a cloudy sky makes people feel sad. Feelings are its main downfall.

Minsky thinks that a combination of different types of systems such as neural nets and pure logic systems can begin to bridge the gap to a true emotion engine. It is not the total answer but it will improve on what we have right now. Systems that can choose the right path the same way a human can is the future of these expert systems.

These advancements can help support knowledge management systems because then people will be able to interact with systems that are able to think and feel just like other humans. Decision will be able to be made essentially without human guidance and be correct. People will be able to use their own knowledge and compare that to the emotion system to see if they are thinking logically or with a sound mind.  Learning will increase exponentially because these systems could teach us about topics we know nothing about. These systems would change the would as we know it forever.

What are Expert Systems?

An expert system is a computer system that emulates the decision-making ability of a human expert.  The system is given a number of variables and factors and then it comes up with a final answer or solution that would reflect what an actual person would choose in the same situation. They solve complex problems that a traditional human most likely could not solve. It saves time because it uses high processing speeds.  It is the first successful form of AI.

The main technical components of an expert system include the knowledge base,  the user interface and the inference engine. The user interface is the main component where the user of the system,  a human, is able to enter the information needed so that the system can know what the problem is.  The user interface should be easy to use and be able to be understandable among many different users. This can be set up as a person choosing between multiple scenarios  from a multiple choice list or a person entering a sentence or two to describe the problem. The knowledge base is expressed with natural language. It uses IF..THEN logic to solve the problems that they are presented.  This gives the expert system the advantage of  being able to evaluate problems in everyday languages. This is very rare in the computer science field.  Finally, the inference engine is the part of the system that produces a reasoning of the rules that it must follow.  In order to produce this reasoning the system will rely on logic.  There are many different kinds of logic that can be used and most of them are very complex and can only be understood by people in the mathematics field.  With the logic that the system follows its able to analyze the knowledge base and apply it to the problem using that logic to come up with a reasonable solution.

There are many business applications for expert systems. Businesses have many difficult obstacles that they must analyze and choose the right path in order to be a successful company. Some of the systems that businesses may use include what they should invest in to make the most return on their money. They can also use an expert system to choose whether to merge with another company by analyzing the outcome that the system thinks will occur. Most of the expert systems used in businesses will be financial based because the goal of any business is to put more money on their bottom line. There can also be systems that help them choose the best person for a particular job.  The system can analyze the resumes of the people who applied for the job and send back an answer about who would be the best hire for the job.

The benefits of using an expert system include the time that it saves to come up with a solution to the problem you are trying to solve.  Also it can solve very complex problems that a human might not be able to solve. An expert system can also be set up multiple ways for multiple types of problems. There are also problems with these systems.  It’s are for them to directly interpret human language. Many words and phrases can have many different meanings in any language. Also an expert system can only do what it is programmed to do.  One day AI will most likely be able to learn and create it’s own learning abilities in order to solve any problem.

The World is Flat?

Thomas L. Friedman gave a speech at MIT stating that the world is flat.  Many of you say “what”? He does not mean that literally, but figuratively in explaining  how the business world has become around the globe. The movement of products, ideas and information is readily available now more than ever. Once upon a time news and products were carried by horseback or landlocked railroads.  These days anything can reach any part of the world that same day.  Sometimes even in seconds if you are talking about something like an email. It’s amazing how far we have gone in such a small amount of time. The main reason we can do all of this is because of technology. Evolving technology makes the transmission of tangible and intangible things much faster and more efficient.

Friedman goes on to explain how technology has caused the world to become flat in relation to the transmission of knowledge and ideas. He goes on to explain how the internet came about and it changed how we think and move things forever. Before the internet information and knowledge was retrieved from mainly newspapers and television news. You can only get those once a day if you are a newspaper and a few times a day if you are a television news program. People were amazed at what they could do on the internet. They also started using it more and more and then he talks about the .com boom. Everyone has access to everyone else in the world.  They could sell to anyone in the world and they could share knowledge with anyone in the world. Friedman also explained how people needed to act on their ides immediately or someone else would probably come up with that idea and use it before them. With the world world being flat an idea wouldn’t just stay locally or regionally or even nationally. Once someone implemented an idea it could and would go globally.

Friedman also pointed out that the invention by Netscape, a web browser, was a huge leap forward on the internet landscape. The computer would was now becoming flatter for everyone. Before Netscape created this web browser only the educated geeks of the world were able to use the web efficiently and effectively. An ordinary person would usually have no idea how or what to do on the internet. With this browser people now could all use this new interface to see the amazing thing called the web. No longer was it strictly text based, but now it was a clickable navigating system that was easy to use.

Friedman also used the metaphor that the world is flat to describe the business world playing field. Companies now have all the same advantages as the next but it all comes down to who will work harder to earn the big bucks. Every company now has access to the whole worlds population to try to figure out the next big thing or idea that will make them millions of dollars.  The company that gets the competitive advantage will be the one that goes the extra mile to get its customers what they really want. Companies who go out and gain knowledge about what customer really want and need will have competitive advantage in the long run.

The world is flat.  Now it makes much more sense…right?  The globalization of knowledge and ideas has made the world so flat that an average Joe can become the next millionaire.  You just need to put the work in and gain knowledge to gain that competitive advantage that keeps you on top.

How knowledge management practices differ among Partners Healthcare, Nucor Steel, and Buckman Labs

Partners Healthcare, Nucor Steel, and Buckman Labs all have specific knowledge management practices that they utilize to help their companies be profitable and to stay on top.  These three companies utilize their knowledge in different ways because they operate in different parts of the market. Partners Healthcare  is a service provider while Nucor Steel is a manufacturer. There are different ways companies manage their knowledge in the service industry versus the production industry. Buckman Labs is also a service provider in the sense that they provide research for its clients. Even though these three companies seem very different from each other they all have basic knowledge management practices.

Partners Health is a healthcare provider that is a not-for-profit organization that owns many hospitals in Massachusetts.  Many of the hospitals it owns are teaching affiliates of Harvard Medical School.  Partners owns several types of facilities including health centers, hospitals and other community facilities. With all of these different facilities scattered throughout the area, Partners had to find a way to manage the knowledge that it had in all of its locations. All of it’s patient data needed to be organized in a way that it would benefit the entire company and not just one facility. Therefore they created a system in which all of the patient information in linked in all of its locations. This way its patients can go to any of its locations and be able to get care right away. The doctors there will have up to date information and be able to help the patient more quickly than if they didn’t have up to date information. This way of managing their knowledge helps them succeed and also become even more successful.

Nucor Steel produces steel in the United States and is one of the largest to boot.  They are also the largest recycler of steel in the US. The way that they manage knowledge is through their employees. One of the innovated strategies that they use is that they pay their employees based on what they accomplish.  They do not have a set pay scale for their employees. They also involve their employees in all the information and processes of the company.  In this way they utilize their employees to come up with new ideas on how to make the company better. They use actual human beings to manage their knowledge instead of using mainly a computer system.

Buckman Labs is a specialty chemical company that produces  water treatment, leather industries, and pulp & paper. Their most important focus is to always make the customer happy. The way that they do this is through their knowledge management. They keep all the information about their company open to all their employees. That way all their employees knows exactly whats going on inside the company and they can make suggestions and feel more like part of a team instead of feeling like just another employee following orders.  The owner believes that knowledge should be shared with all and not just stores inside a computer system. With all employees on the same page the company can move more smoothly and they can have better innovation.

All three of these companies handles their knowledge in different ways. The special they they do this is what makes them successful in their industry. One main point that we all can take from these companies is that knowledge needs to be shared in order to be successful.  Knowledge that is kept hidden away does not benefit anyone.

Aetna and how IT benefits their customers

Aetna is a very large health care provider that has a very robust main website at http://www.aetna.com.  Aetna’s IT department has built a very useful website in order to help their customers(patients) complete many tasks online without having to physically go anywhere or be on hold and wait to talk to someone on the phone. With the customers being able to complete more tasks online, IT has saved the company money in having to use less man power.

When you first go onto their website you can see many things that a customer can do right from the home page.  First, you are able to sign up for their service. You don’t have to call them and be on the phone for a long time in order to have them as your insurance provider. You will just fill in the required information and then it is sent to the company to be reviewed. You can even get rate quotes online in order to see how much it will cost before you sign up. This way you can compare that with other company’s rates.

Then the website is broken up into various sections depending on how you are affiliated with the company. There is an Individuals and Families section if you are a customer of theirs. Then there is an employers and organizations sections if you are a company that uses them as their health care provider for their employees. Also, there is a health care professionals section for various doctors that are a part of the company. Finally, there is a producers page for the manufacturers of various health care products.

The IT department has woven all of their potential affiliations into one easy to navigate website in order for the company to provide services faster to the people that need them.

Individual customers can see their various health plans. They have the option to buy it directly online or call them and buy it over the phone. They can check is their doctor is currently in their network and also the procedures that are covered by the various plans. They can view all their medical claims online and made it easy for them to pay their premiums straight from the website. It even has a pharmacy page with a list of approved drugs and information about certain drugs that can be prescribed.

The same goes for employers and health care professionals. They can access all the information they need with a click of a button. IT pretty much built a all-in-one solution.

On the back end of all of this data being exchanged between customers and Aetna, IT has databases storing and sorting all of this data in order for it to be easily accessible by employees at Aetna. When a customer looks up some information online, the database is sent a query to retrieve the requested information. The same thing happens when a customer calls in, the employee queries the database for the information about the calling customer.

IT also protects customers data by having anti-virus and firewalls in place. Individuals health information has to be kept secure because of HIPPA and the IT professionals are the ones that do their best to make that happen. A data loss can be very costly to a company, therefore data security is of the utmost importance.

Aetna’s IT department is also working on ways to improve ease-of-use for their customers. They also want to keep all the information that they exchange secure. Without the IT department people would still be calling over the phone and using pencils and paper to keep information.

 

Increasing Return

The law of increasing returns simply states that when you add one more unit of something, you get a marginal increase in production from adding that one more unit. This unit could be anything that is useful in completing some task. This could also be called the law of diminishing costs as well. This law is used much less in the real world than the law of diminishing returns. The law of diminishing returns states that after a certain point the cost to produce one more unit will cause the cost of that unit to start to rise and not fall.

There are many ways the law of increasing returns can be applied in the real world.  An example of the laws of increasing returns could pertain to a company that uses a fax machine.  Lets say that is company does a lot of business though sending and receiving faxes from different companies and people. If that company only has one fax machine and it is very busy, then the amount of work that can get done is restricted to how much work that fax machine can get done. If it a slow fax machine then it wouldn’t be very efficient. But, the company were to add one more fax machine then they would be increasing their work output.  Also, if they were to add a faster fax machine then it would increase their marginal gain even more. Using numbers, lets say the original fax machine could handle 40 faxes(sending/receiving) in an hour.  The new machine can handle 75 of these faxes in the same hour.  That means that in that same hour they increased their number of faxes they can handle from 40 to 115 by adding that new fax machine.  The marginal return for that new fax machine would then be 75.  They could keep adding fax machines and be able to complete more faxes but their marginal gains would start to decrease at some point. There would be a point where the marginal gain is so small that the cost of adding one more unit would be higher in cost than the gain from having that extra unit to complete a task.

Another example would a company like Google that uses computers to complete tasks. The number of computers they have directly relates to how much work that they can do. As Google continues to grow and the projects they are working on grows, they will need more computers to get that extra work done. The marginal gain they get from adding another computer to complete tasks illustrates the law of increasing returns. But there is also a point where another computer will not add a sufficient marginal gain to warrant adding another computer.

In my person life the law of increasing returns applies as well. I list ans sell things on E bay.  There is only a certain amount of time per day that I have to work on that.  I have to list things and ship things which takes up a lot of my time. If I had one more person helping me then I would be able to list more things and also ship more things in the same amount of time. That extra person would give me a marginal gain in the activities that I would be able to complete. I would also be able to make more money because of being able to list and ship more stuff. I would get a marginal gain in both work output and financially as well.

 

 

IT and its Strategic Value

Over the years IT has been a great asset to companies in order for them to grow and prosper. Today and into the future IT will be more important than ever in order for companies and corporations to keep on growing.  It doesn’t matter if you are a small business or a very large corporation because IT will help you facilitate a stronger business. IT gives strategic value to anyone who knows how to use it properly.

One way that IT can be a great tool in a companies’ strategic plans are in the integration of systems. Say a company such as a system of hospitals wants to improve it’s internal information system network and they have separate systems for payroll, marketing, buying, etc.  but they want to integrate them into a single information system so that different department within the hospital can access others from the same system. That way when the buying department needs to see how much money the hospital is making in order to make a more informed decision on what equipment to buy it can see that information instantly instead of having to go to the other department to get reports about the hospitals financials. A group of internal or external IT professionals would have to work to integrate all the different systems into one main information system. This would add major strategic value by saving lots of time and money.

Another way it adds strategic value by helping mergers integrate their systems.  Today, now more than ever, companies are merging together more rapidly and consistently and they need to be able to have all their systems work together.  This is much more difficult than the previous example because whole company systems are much harder to integrate than individual department systems.  Different departments within each company may have different types of systems. Making them all work together can be a daunting task. IT is what makes that work. Without IT there would be no real way to get these companies that merged together to work together efficiently and effectively. The strategic value in this is that your merger or larger company can work faster and more efficiently than your competitor.

There are so many more ways that IT gives businesses strategic value. It gives the employees a way to communicate better and from places all over the world. Better communication means more value. The ability to be able to communicate and work with co-workers all over the world gives companies strategic value over the ones than either can’t or don’t use it effectively.

One major part of IT that I think gives strategic value to companies is the security side of keeping the businesses sensitive information safe. When a business has either information about their customers or information about how their products are made or other sensitive information that needs to be kept safe then IT comes in tries to do its best. There is by no means a way to keep everything safe always.  Every company will have security breaches and that is for certain. How good a companies IT department is at reducing these incidents is the key.  This saves a lot of money as well as keeping their customers.  If a company has a lot of breaches then the customers will not want to keep doing business with that company. Also the time that it takes to recover from an incident costs a lot of money.  Basically a big enough breach to a smaller company could cause it to go under very quickly. Therefore, a strong IT department adds a lot of strategic value in the area of security.

As you can see IT plays a big role in how companies operate. They add strategic value in many areas of the business and will become more and more important in the future. As everything becomes more automated and reliant on technology, IT will be there giving some business more value than others.

Knowledge vs. Physical Economy

In today’s society we are dealing with two different kinds of economies. The knowledge economy and the physical economy. These two different economies are different in some ways and the same in others. They both play a big role in how our economy evolves  and I believe we are evolving into more of a knowledge economy every day.

The physical economy includes all of the physical products that drive our economy such as industrial and agricultural products. The knowledge economy involves the creation, dissemination, and exploitation of knowledge and new ideas. Therein lies the main different in the two.  It is physical products vs. intangible knowledge and ideas.  Physical products break and wear out unlike knowledge which grows and propagates over time.  Physical products are made at the expense of the manufacturer and knowledge is made for almost nothing.  The value of each is very different as well. Physical products are all based on production and selling costs while knowledge and ideas are based on the value to the customer.  It’s basically the maker deciding on the cost in one instance and the consumer deciding the cost in the other.

The similarities between the two are that they both have to be present in our economy for our economy to be strong. You can not have the physical economy without the knowledge economy.  A strong physical economy is based on a strong knowledge economy. They also both offer monetary gain. How good one does directly related to how good the other is.

In today’s economy you can see the knowledge economy in many things.  Think about houses, bridges, skyscrapers and other wonders of the world such as the Spinx.  These structures could not have been created without the knowledge of the people that designed them.  The schematics were ideas in the brains of various people and then they were converted from just knowledge into a physical representation of that idea. These then drive our economy to become stronger because not only does that person or people with the idea get paid but also all the people that are hired to create the physical structure. The more knowledge and ideas people have the stronger our economy will become.
In order for the economy to become stronger people have to generate new ideas. One example of this is the electronics industry.  It seems that every few months a new or upgraded gadget comes out in the electronic industry. Computers seem to go out of date in the blink of an eye. The knowledge and ideas in that industry drive it so fast that whoever gets one step ahead in the technology will have a great advantage.  Employers in this industry put ultimate value in the knowledge that their employees can bring to the table.

The industries around the world have been transitioning from the physical money aspect to the knowledge based aspect to make their companies grow. It no longer matters how much money you have to succeed. It matters more about how knowledge and how creative your employees are.  Ideas are what makes the world go round.