When you think of research breakthroughs from IBM, Big Blue's famous Watson and Almaden labs and their corps of highly educated researchers and engineers come to mind, of course. But how often do you hear of an IBM "distinguished engineer" whose formal education ended with a high school equivalency diploma?
That man is Jeff Jonas, chief scientist of the company's Entity Analytic Solutions. His research, which started when he was just 16 and living in his car, has led to an innovative new take on identity and business intelligence. Systems developed with Jonas's technology have been used to defeat card counters in Las Vegas, analyze connections among terrorists, and help reunite families separated by Hurricane Katrina.
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Much of his thinking can be summed up in a phrase he likes to sprinkle into conversations: "The data is the question."
Here's how he explains that aphorism: "Next-generation 'smart' information management systems will not rely on users dreaming up smart questions to ask computers; rather, they will automatically determine if new observations reveal something of sufficient interest to warrant some reaction; for example, sending an automatic notification to a user or a system about an opportunity or risk," he and co-author Lisa Sokol wrote in an essay last year.
See the dots, find the felon
Imagine that investigators at a large bank are aware that fraud has been perpetrated and the culprit probably had an inside accomplice. Then suppose a human resources person changes his phone number. Ordinarily, there would be no reason to see a connection between those events.
Now suppose that the HR person's new phone number also appeared in data collected during the investigation. The chances of someone, or a typical information system, making a connection are remote. Indeed, in all probability no one has even asked that question. But software developed by Jonas before his company was purchased by IBM, and now marketed as IBM's Identity Insight, would make that connection in seconds and alert the proper person without being asked, he says.