Top IBM Research Stories of 2014

A Guinness World Record. A new kind of plastic. Oh, and a chip modeled after the human brain. Here are some of our most popular stories in 2014. It’s been a busy year! Thank you for reading, sharing, and commenting on them. But most of all, thank you for being curious about pushing the limits of science and technology.  

Help Set a Guinness World Record

IBM scientists partnered with National Geographic Kids to set a Guinness World Records title for the world's smallest magazine cover.

Ballet or mathematics? Most ordinary eight year olds girls would probably choose ballet, but Maria Dubovitskaya was anything but an ordinary eight year old.

One day, after ballet lessons in the Moscow suburb of Domodedovo, Maria’s parents were running a little late. She heard other children, mostly boys her age, clacking away on IBM 286 PC keyboards in the classroom next door. Peeking through a crack in the door Maria was overcome with curiosity.

When scientists succeed at IBM Research, they tend to stay. Robert Dennard, the inventor of the DRAM, for instance, had been at IBM for 56 years when he retired earlier this year. But there are researchers at the opposite end of the seniority spectrum who are already making their marks—on IBM and the world.

Project Lucy: Confronting Africa’s Grand Challenges, with Watson's Help

Amid the chaos of civil war, Abdigani Diriye’s family fled Somalia in a rush when he was just five years old. Diriye and his sister escaped to London in the care of a 19-year-old aunt; his father flew to Sweden; and his mother made her way through the battle zone to Kenya.

Every year, top U.S. men’s college basketball teams enter a month-long tournament for a chance to be crowned champion. And it always stirs up fan and pundit predictions to pick potential winners of all 63 games. 

To really give the pot a stir this year, Berkshire Hathaway, Quicken Loans and Yahoo Sports teamed up to create the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. Choose every match up correctly and win $1B.

(download a "Bracketology" infographic)

Graphene Circuit Ready for Wireless

Graphene, one of the world’s thinnest electronic nanomaterials, has long held the promise as a wonder material in everything from flexible touchscreens to super-fast circuits. It’s that interest in semiconductors that led my team to build the world’s most advanced, fully functional integrated circuit made of wafer-scale graphene – 10,000 times better performance than previously reported efforts.

Tilted view scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image revealing the integration of key
components in IC with enlarged view showing the advanced gate structure
of the graphene field-effect transistors (GFET). Inset image shows crosssectional
SEM of embedded T-shaped gate. Scale bar, 500 nm.

“We need to talk.” Generally not something you want to hear from your PhD advisor. But when it was followed by, “Have you heard of HBO?”, then-Stanford student, now-IBM Watson engineer Vinith Misra was intrigued (and as a film enthusiast, a little amused). 

His advisor, Dr. Tsachy Weissman, had been contacted by the technical advisor for HBO’s Silicon Valley in 2013 to help the show’s creators develop fictionalized compression algorithms, and he wanted to bring Vinith on board.

Theseus was a great hero in Greek mythology known for qualities such as strength, courage and wisdom. 

Therefore it’s no surprise that a team of Greek IBM scientists in Zurich and Professor Theodore Antonakopoulos and his team from the University of Patras, Greece, borrowed his name as a codeword for a groundbreaking new memory technology, which combines flash with phase change memory (PCM) on a PCI-e card. Initial tests have clocked 12x and 275x improvements — and that’s no myth.

Tanuja Ganu grew up in a small town in India about 400 kilometers south of Mumbai, where – like much of the country – energy outages happen all the time. 

“The voltage was often so low that the lights were dim and the refrigerator would burn out.

“I studied for exams by candlelight, and endured summers without working fans. To deal with this as children, we learned to time-shift critical things we needed electricity for – like cooking and cleaning," Tanuja said.

See What's Cooking in the Cognitive Kitchen

Raise your hand if you have interests outside of your day job. Probably most everyone, I imagine. Now, how often do they serendipitously collide? Probably not that often, right? But that’s what happened for me two years ago when I applied my computer science skills to my love of the culinary arts as part of IBM’s Cognitive Cooking project.

Seven nanometers. That’s slightly longer than the 2.5 nm circumference of a DNA double helix. And 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. It’s also the miniscule dimension that future semiconductors must push past to keep up with today’s computing demands being put on cloud, big data and cognitive systems.

What is a cognitive chip? The latest SyNAPSE chip, introduced in August of 2014, has the potential to transform mobility by spurring innovation around an entirely new class of applications with sensory capabilities at incredibly low power levels. This is enabled by a revolutionary new technology design inspired by the human brain.


Accessibility Technology Opening New Channels of Online Commerce

15 seconds.

That’s all the time an organization has to hold someone’s attention on a website.

For various reasons – poor navigation, confusing content, ineffective design, or lack of accessibility – consumers have no patience for organizations that don’t take customer experience seriously.

By offering an online experience customized to individual needs, preferences and abilities, organizations can ensure they are reaching the broadest base of the population including people with disabilities, aging consumers and multi-cultural communities to optimize website usability, enhance interactions and improve sales opportunities.

This is why IBM Tealeaf has integrated accessibility functionality from IBM Research into its latest release, IBM Tealeaf Customer Experience (cxOversat), to improve interactions, increase loyalty and expand market reach.

Consider the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping extravaganzas. According to the recent IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, online sales grew 12.6 percent compared to 2013. Specifically, on Cyber Monday, desktop PCs accounted for 58.6 percent of all online traffic and 78 percent of all online sales.

Given this growth and the continued reliance on desktops to shop online, ensuring that a website is accessible for all consumers can only maximize sales and increase user satisfaction. However, while retailers are continuing to personalize the shopping experience, they still continue to miss out on meeting the needs of their diverse customer segments.

Tealeaf give organizations insights and answers required to verify whether a website is delivering a positive and pleasant experience for all visitors. By understanding customers’ online experiences and behaviors, organizations know immediately where a site might have usability issues so they can optimize pages to deliver uninhibited access to information and timely offers.

IBM Tealeaf cxOversat has been enhanced with two accessibility overlays to help users improve the usability of a website and support compliance with government regulations and industry accessibility standards:
  • Color Contrast: Creates greater website usability for people with vision impairments by automatically flagging text with foreground and background color contrast issues and recommends how to easily correct the color contrast ratio violations in order to meet industry standards.
  • Accessibility: Ensures websites include alternative text, proper tabbing and keyboard navigation, and area text for screen readers to create the best online experience for users with vision, auditory, physical or cognitive disabilities.

New accessibility overlay automatically identifies text with foreground and background color contrast violations.

For instance, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 15 years, and people 60 and older will acquire at least two disabilities. By seamlessly incorporating accessibility, such as ensuring screen readers can easily navigate a website, IBM makes it easier for customers with more significant visual loss, language comprehension issues, or motor difficulties to learn about new offers or services. Now, organizations can serve the largest audience possible and open sustainable new revenue channels, especially for Baby Boomers who have annual spending of more than $2 trillion.

With rapid visibility into customer behavior, organizations gain better insights to understand why certain customer segments might never click on areas of a website, and more importantly, the answers to quickly resolve accessibility issues that online customers encounter.

After all, first impressions still matter, especially when a competitor's website is 15 seconds away.

For more information on IBM Accessibility, visit www.ibm.com/able or join our conversations on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.