The head of IBM Research lays out how the COVID-19 work model will reshape the way enterprises tackle problems for decades

  • An IBM expert says the 2020 work model is here to stay: Distributed workers accessing data in multiple cloud-computing environments to solve problems with new tools. 
  • Dario Gil, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM Research, will speak to the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday.
  • Gil will discuss IBM's view of technology and work for the next decade, as laid out in a new report. 
  • The report and Gil's talk say that the work model that has battled the COVID-19 pandemic will be used to tackle many other problems. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

COVID-19 created a new work paradigm for enterprises: Distributed workers turning to cloud computing tools to keep their businesses running. That model is not going away, the head of IBM Research will tell the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday. 

Dario Gil, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM Research, told Insider in advance of his talk that the impact on work from 2020 will be profound and long-lasting. Enterprises large and small will employ distributed workers who share cloud-based data and use artificial intelligence programs to solve problems – from global warming to creating better marketing emails. 

"We have had to work from home, so we got to collaborate in novel ways across institutions to solve this problem [COVID-19] in an accelerated way, and there's no going back," Gil said in an interview Monday. "So yes, I am making the argument that this is a unique moment and that the clarity of what we now need to do is to accelerate scientific discovery."

In a report IBM is releasing with Gil's talk, "Science and Technology Outlook, 2021," the company notes that the COVID-19 pandemic "is radically reshaping our ways of working. The practices, policies, and technologies developed will define work for decades to come."

COVID-19 treatment research is a sign of things to come

The way we have tackled the pandemic is the way we will tackle the future, Gil said. 

An IBM Research timeline shows the evolution of scientific problem-solving.IBMFor instance, more than 74,000 new COVID-19 scientific related papers were added to the National Institute of Health library in 2020. From that research, there are an estimated 1,063 potential molecules that could be used to treat the virus. The possibilities are endless. Humans could not process and make sense of all that data. Artificial intelligence could scan papers, assimilate research, compare outcomes, and make recommendations. 

Gil, a 17-year IBM veteran with a PhD from MIT, said that in his work with the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, IBM has joined Microsoft, Amazon, Google and other companies in projects that access NASA libraries. The companies collaborate to use AI to battle the virus. 

On a grand scale, that is how enterprises will address future problems, he said. The different companies represent "hybrid cloud environments," he said, meaning data stored in different remote servers. The data is pooled and processed with algorithms that work to find new solutions. Hybrid cloud has been a major initiative at IBM in recent years, and was the impetus for its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat.

The same approach could be used by a furniture company designing a new chair, he said. If one part of the company had data on a top-selling lamp, another part of the company had data on customers' preferences for chairs, and a third part of the company had online design tools, AI could be used to design a chair to match the best-selling lamp. In the past companies might use machine-learning programs to predict which customers might want to buy a chair. In the future, AI will create the chair they want.  

All kinds of companies will use AI to find new solutions that go far beyond just data analysis, Gil said. Businesses will assimilate information from outside sources on politics, the environment, social movements, and other industries. The rapid collection of that data will inform decisions, and help to create new products and services – such as ways for financial institutions to manage risk in uncertain times. 

"That's what's really exciting," he said. "The use of these techniques of AI to generate things that didn't exist before." 

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